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Fletcher gives U.S. first parallel medal

SNOWBOARDING

The cacophony of cowbells that celebrated the winner of the parallel giant slalom Thursday also included American cheers, as the bronze went to Rosey Fletcher, the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic medal in this sport that combines American-invented snowboarding with old-style racing through gates.

Three-time defending World Cup champion Daniela Meuli of Switzerland gave her country and its red-clad, raucous, flag-waving Alpine fans a second gold in as many days. Philipp Schoch won the men's event Wednesday, with brother Simon winning silver.

Meuli didn't have to work hard for this victory, cruising across the line in the semifinals after Fletcher's fall, then winning the championship heat easily after Amelie Kober crashed and slid into the safety fence just as it appeared the German might overtake Meuli.

In the bronze-medal race, Fletcher took a 1.5-second lead in the first run after Austrian Doris Guenther went down. Fletcher still needed to make that lead stand up when she switched to the red course, which had been the slower and more treacherous throughout the event.

Racing cautiously, Fletcher allowed Guenther to make up ground on the top of the course, but then the American put it in overdrive on the bottom and won easily.

It was a huge victory for the U.S. team, as the 30-year-old Fletcher, in her third Olympics, and 22-year-old Michelle Gorgone were considered long shots to make it to the medal stand.

"Unlike the other two times, I was a dark horse, and I prefer being the dark horse," Fletcher said.

FREESTYLE SKIING

U.S. shut out in aerials

ON THE SNOW: Han Xiaopeng of China won gold, Dmitri Dashinski of Belarus took silver and Vladimir Lebedev of Russia won bronze after coming in as only the 30th-ranked aerialist in the world.

Thus ended a disappointing Olympics for the American freestyle team. After winning three golds in 1998 and three silvers in 2002, the team leaves Italy with only one medal - the bronze won by Toby Dawson in men's moguls.

Part of Dashinski's success could be attributed to a watered-down field, the result of a mistake-filled night of qualifying that eliminated many of the top jumpers, including top-10 Americans Joe Pack and Ryan St. Onge.

That left Jeret "Speedy" Peterson as the country's last hope. Everyone knew he would make it an all-or-nothing gambit, attempting his trademark trick - the Hurricane - but he bobbled on the landing and fell to seventh place.

QUICK HITS: The Hurricane is a triple somersault with five twists, three of which are crammed into the middle flip.

UP NEXT: Freestyle skiing is complete.

CURLING

Sweden takes women's crown

ON THE ICE: The Swedish women's team rock 'n' rolled its way to another heavy medal - this one gold.

Stars of a head-banging, leather-and-chains music video back home, the Swedes played a conservative game to beat Switzerland 7-6 with a double-takeout on the last stone of an extra end. Canada beat Norway 11-5 in eight ends earlier to take the bronze.

Switzerland rallied from a 6-4 deficit in the 10th end of regulation to force the extra frame. In the 11th, Switzerland put one stone in the middle and piled guards in front of it before Swedish second Cathrine Lindahl took out two stones with one shot to get the edge back. Mirjam Ott curled her first stone - Switzerland's second-to-last of the game - around a guard, but it didn't get inside the Swedish one that was sitting on the lip of the red 4-foot circle.

For their last chance, the Swiss talked over their options and Ott knocked Sweden out of the zone. Swedish skip Anette Norberg let go of the hammer and knocked away both Swiss rocks for the victory.

QUICK HITS: Sweden won the bronze medal in Nagano, when the sport was promoted to full Olympic status.

UP NEXT: Today, men's gold- and bronze-medal games.

BIATHLON

Russia wins relay without star

ON THE SNOW: The Russians missed Olga Pyleva only in their hearts. On the biathlon course, they didn't need her.

Russia upset two-time defending Olympic champion Germany in the women's 4x6K relay, and they did it without their banished star who was tossed out of the Games and stripped of her silver medal last week for using a banned stimulant.

"We dedicate this race to Olga Pyleva," teammate Svetlana Ishmouratova said. "Even though she's not with us, we greatly sympathize with her. We know how difficult it must have been for her to watch the race on the TV screen at home. She must feel emptiness and we really feel togetherness."

Germany finished 50.7 seconds behind for the silver, and France overtook Belarus on the final leg for the bronze.

QUICK HITS: The Americans took 15th in the 18-team field.

UP NEXT: Saturday, men's 15K, women's 12.5K.

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