Winter Olympics: Koss the boss for boisterous Norwegians

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NORWAY, deprived of the big prize in the men's downhill, celebrated a gold medal captured in style when Johann Olav Koss broke his own world record to win the men's 5,000 metres speed skating title in Hamar yesterday.

Driven on by a boisterous 12,000- strong crowd at the Viking Ship Olympic Hall, Koss produced a blistering finish to clock 6min 34.96sec, almost six 10ths of a second inside the mark he set in December. Skating in the fourth pair, Koss beat his team-mate Kjell Storelid, who had improved the Olympic record by two seconds to 6:42.68 - good enough for the silver medal - and then sat back to watch, saying: 'I did my best - if anyone else can do better, let them do so.' They could not, although the Dutchman Rintje Ritsma set off quicker than Koss in sleek, Lycra-covered skates but could not maintain the pace, finishing third.

Life is just a bowl of cake mix to Manuela Di Centa, who lapsed into the culinary vernacular after skating away with the gold medal in the women's 15km freestyle cross-country event. The Italian, who once gave up the sport after rows with her federation but won a relay bronze medal in the 1992 Albertville Games, said: 'I always continued to believe in myself and, most importantly, to be happy. It is wonderful to have won gold, but that is just the icing on the cake. To put all the ingredients inside the cake is the most difficult part. For an athlete, the ingredients are a very important part of life, and icing is just icing; gold is just gold.'

Silver was just silver, this time, for the Russian defending Olympic champion, Lyubov Yegorova, who was beaten by 1min 18.5sec.

Winning margins are counted in fractions of a second, even 1,000ths, in luge, so Georg Hackl has no room to relax despite setting the fastest times on the first two of the four runs in the men's singles. 'One little mistake can make all the difference,' the German soldier said after hurtling down the Hunderfossen track at 80mph to establish a lead of a 10th of a second over Markus Prock going into today's final two runs. He beat the Austrian to the Olympic title in Albertville.

The pairs skating event opened with the Russian partnerships in title contention showing imperfections in their technical programme. The 1988 gold medallists, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, made a bad mistake on a side-by-side spin, while the defending champions, Natalia Mishkutienok and Artur Dmitriev, lost marks when Dmitriev slipped at the end.

The US ice hockey team's challenge got off to a shaky start in Group B. They needed two late goals to force a 4-4 draw with lowly-rated France.