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Sochi Olympics medal count: US tops the chart

Alpine skier Ted Ligety wins the first US gold in men's alpine ski super giant, and two US teams medal in women's bobsled.

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Top Olympic medal winners as of Wed., Feb. 19.

Rich Clabaugh/The Christian Science Monitor

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The United States stands at the top of the Olympic medal count today after winning hardware of each color in Day 12 of competition.

Strong performances in alpine skiing and women’s bobsled catapulted the US to the top of the rankings with 23 total medals, but Russia and the Netherlands are nipping at the US lead with 22 total medals each. Norway holds the overall gold medal lead with nine. 

The first US medal of the day came from alpine skier Ted Ligety, who thrilled fans with his gold medal run in the giant slalom. Ligety is the reigning World Cup champion in the event, but had failed to medal in his first races in Sochi. Today he became the first American man to win the giant slalom and only the second American alpine skier to win two Olympic gold medals (he also won gold in Turin in 2006).

Ligety’s name must be included “in a conversation about the best giant slalom skiers of all time,” the Monitor’s correspondent in Sochi writes, “not only for his results, but for his impact on the sport.”

A Ligety giant slalom turn is as much a signature as is pen and ink on paper, and around the slopes of Europe, it is seen as nothing less than a revolution in the sport.

The first rule of ski racing is to follow the fall line – the imaginary line down a hill that a ball would take if you tossed it from the top of a pitch. This is the fastest way down the mountain, and the more you get off it, the more time you lose.

But Ligety has essentially blown up that logic, and in his first run Wednesday, he gave a master class.  

In a down-to-the-wire finish in the women’s bobsled (officially known as bobsleigh) event, American teams ended up with the silver and bronze medals. Team USA 1 was in first place after three heats, but the Canadians pulled off a electrifyingly speedy fourth run to win the event by a tenth of a second. Elena Meyers and Lauryn Williams of Team USA 1 took silver, followed by their teammates Aja Evans and Jamie Greubel of USA 2 who won bronze. 

Today was also a record-breaking day for Norwegian cross-country skier Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who became the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time after winning gold with his teammates in the biathlon mixed relay. Bjoerndalen broke the record of his fellow Norwegian Bjoern Daehlie, which he had tied last week with a win in the sprint biathlon. 

One of Bjoerndalen's first congratulatory calls was from the King of Norway, ESPN reports. The king “knows our sport so well,” Bjoerndalen said. “He knows exactly what we have problems with, in the shooting, on the skiing, and he was really happy with my shooting today. Yeah, he was impressed.'' 

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The Norwegian, who also broke the record for the oldest Olympic champion, has another chance to medal in the 4 x 7.5-km relay on Saturday.

Russian athletes treated the home crowd to three medals today: a silver and bronze in the snowboard parallel giant slalom, and a silver in the men’s cross-country team sprint. Of the two snowboard medals won, gold went to Vic Wild in the men’s event. He competed just after his wife, Alena Zavarzina, won bronze in the women’s competition. Wild, born and raised in the US, became a Russian citizen after marrying Zavarzina in 2011. 

"It's incredible to win it along with Alena,'' Wild said. "We're together all the time. If one of us has success and one of us doesn't, it's great – but it's not that great." 

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