Turin, Italy Chad Hedrick cut through the ice in his first Olympic race - arms swinging furiously, body gently swaying, mouth hanging open. When he crossed the line, flipped back his hood and caught a glimpse of the scoreboard, it was time to let out a Texas-sized yell.
"The Exception" was downright exceptional.
Hedrick took the first step toward Eric Heiden's Holy Grail of Winter Olympic records - five gold medals in 1980 - with a dominating victory Saturday in the 5,000 meters, the first speedskating race of the Turin Games.
Even though it's only one down and four to go, Hedrick didn't plan for this to be his only trip to the top of the medals podium.
"I didn't come here to win one gold medal," said the 28-year-old Texan, flashing his toothy grin. "You're going to see my face a lot more."
While that was typical Hedrick bravado, the scene that unfolded before the race was hardly expected.
After a light jog around the edge of the oval, he headed downstairs to get in some stretching. Suddenly, Hedrick's body began to shake. Then, the tears started to flow. Maybe it was the thought of his grandmother, who died 13 years earlier to the day. Maybe it was just the inevitable nervousness that goes along with that first Olympic race.
Whatever the case, it took a hug from his coach, some good-natured kidding from teammate Derek Parra and a quick visit with his family in the stands before Hedrick settled down.
Then, it was time to get down to business. When Hedrick stepped to the line, he was in control. The former world champion from inline skating, who made the switch to ice less than four years ago, knew it was his moment.
The ice was soft, making it difficult to build up power in the curves, but Hedrick persevered better than anyone else. His winning time of 6 minutes, 14.68 seconds was nearly six seconds off the world record but almost two seconds ahead of the runner-up, Sven Kramer of the Netherlands.
"He can work his way through the turns because he's physically stronger than the other skaters," said his father, Paul Hedrick. "And he's mentally stronger, too, so he can fight through the pain."
When Hedrick stepped to the line, he sucked in a couple of deep breaths before taking his stance. Then, he was off on a grueling, 121â2-lap journey, knowing that Kramer - who broke Hedrick's world record back in November - had already put up a time of 6:16.40.
Hedrick was a little off the leader's pace after the first half-lap, but he steadily chipped away at the deficit on the next two trips around the 400-meter oval. By the 1,400 mark, Hedrick had the best time on the board, a margin that grew to as much as 21â2 seconds over Kramer.
Russia's monopoly on Olympic pairs gold looks very secure with Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin. The two-time world champions skated in perfect unison to win the short program. Their performance was so good that the crowd was hushed for much of the performance, the near silence broken only by the sound of their blades majestically cutting through the ice.
And while three Chinese duos and another Russian couple skated well, Totmianina and Marinin easily were the class of the event, earning 68.64 points, with the highest totals for both technique and components.
Jennifer Heil of Canada capped three years of freestyle dominance by winning the moguls event. The winner had a score of 26.5, clipping Norway's Kari Traa by .85. Meanwhile, the U.S. team was shut out of the medals ceremony - a stunning surprise for what largely was considered the deepest team in the world.
American Shannon Bahrke finished 10th, one spot ahead of teammate Jillian Vogtli. And the best from the United States, Hannah Kearney, could only watch the finals after a poor run in the afternoon placed her 22nd, two spots out of qualifying for the medal round.
Gold medal favorite Daron Rahlves and fellow American contender Bode Miller staked out solid starting spots behind their powerhouse Austrian rivals for today's Olympic men's downhill. Rahlves will start 20th, two places behind Miller, based on the final training runs.
Tricia Dunn-Luoma scored a 5-on-3 shorthanded goal, and captain Krissy Wendell added two of the Americans' four third-period goals, leading
the United States to a 6-0 victory over Switzerland. The U.S. overcame Patricia Elsmore-Sautter's superb 50-save performance.
Lars Bystoel of Norway, the leader in qualifying for the normal hill ski jumping event, was eliminated for violating suit regulations, putting Andreas Kuettel and Andreas Kofler at the head of the field for today's final.
Armin Zoeggeler of Italy is looking for more Olympic gold, and Tony Benshoof came seeking to make American luge history. Midway through the men's Olympic luge competition, they're in position to make good on those plans. Zoeggeler, who won bronze in 1994, silver in 1998 and finally gold at the Salt Lake City Games four years ago, delighted the home crowd with a track-record time in each of his two runs Saturday and will bring the lead into today's medal-deciding runs.
Michael Greis of Germany won the men's 20-kilometer biathlon, upsetting defending champion Ole Einar Bjoerndalen for the first gold medal awarded at the Turin Olympics. Bjoerndalen, of Norway, finished 16 seconds behind Greis, whose time was 54 minutes, 23 seconds.
Georg Hettich of Germany held onto his slim lead from the ski jumping portion on the way to a surprising victory.