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Snowboarder garners lucky gold

Tanja Frieden just metres from crossing the finish line first

(Keystone)

Swiss snowboarder Tanja Frieden has taken gold in the women's snowboardcross race at the Turin Olympics, after appearing to have to settle for second place.

The American Lindsey Jacobellis had opened a substantial lead, but fell just metres from the finish.

An Olympic celebration turned into a mountain-sized embarrassment for Jacobellis. Coasting to what should have been an easy victory, the American made a hotdog grab of her board on the second-to-last jump.

It caused her to fall and while she scrambled to her feet, Frieden became the first Olympic women's champion in snowboardcross.

Jacobellis won silver, but had appeared set to snatch gold. The American was well ahead of Frieden after the other two women in the four-rider final fell.

Snowboarding is about style, though, so Jacobellis decided to give it up to the fans in front of the grandstand near the end of her ride. But after she landed from her grab, she caught an edge, then went tumbling outside the blue line.

When she recovered, she trailed the Swiss in past the finish line.

Unbelievable

"It's sensational; I can't believe it," said an excited Frieden after the race. "I didn't get any sleep last night."

Canada's Dominique Maltais took the bronze in a race that saw all the competitors fall except Frieden.

Maltais had smashed into the fence but managed to continue to the line. However, compatriot Maelle Ricker, who had looked imperious in her earlier races, fell awkwardly early in the final and received medical attention on the course.

Steady snowfall had slowed the qualifying times but the sun came out for the latter stages, where several riders bumped into each other and crashed in the four-woman races on the narrow, winding course littered with jumps.

Frieden's medal is the fifth for the Swiss since the sport became Olympic in 1998. Switzerland now has three gold and two bronze in just three Games.

Two other Swiss – Mellie Francon and Olivia Nobs - qualified for the quarterfinals on Friday. Francon finished fifth overall, Nobs 11th.

Skeleton crew

Back at the bobsleigh track, Gregor Stähli starred for Switzerland in the men's skeleton event on Friday, earning himself a bronze medal behind Canadians Duff Gibson and Jeff Pain.

Lurking in fifth position after the initial run, the Swiss athlete turned in a carbon copy of his first heat in the second. While his time wasn't the best, it allowed him to move onto the podium, slip past two British competitors and prevent a Canadian treble.

"I'm really happy," said Stähli after the race. Despite being considered one of the favourites for the event, the Swiss doubted that he could get on the podium after completing his training sessions.

He reckoned he was at a disadvantage on a track that requires a big body to master. "You have to use your feet and body a lot to steer here," he added.

Skeleton racers move their bodies on their sled to point it in the direction they want to go.

Stähli's medal was the second for the Swiss on the Cesana track, coming a day after Maya Pedersen-Bieri won gold in the women's skeleton.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Snowboarding was pioneered in the late 1970s and was heavily influenced by surfing.

In 1998, snowboarding debuted at the Nagano Olympics in Japan.

At the Olympics, athletes compete in three events: half-pipe, snowboardcross and parallel giant slalom.

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Key facts

Tanja Frieden
Age: 30 (date of birth: February 6, 1976)
Place of birth: Bern, Switzerland
Career achievements: Fifth in the world championships snowboard cross, Kreischberg, 2003
Winner of World Cup race in Sierra Nevada, 2004/2005
World Cup ranking: 10th.
A professional snowboarder and teacher, Frieden began in the sport in 1989.

end of infobox

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