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Lassila of Australia emerges from mist as aerials winner

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Must-see drama turned into can't-see drama.

For about an hour or so, there was this surreal (non-) sight at the women's freestyle aerials ski ramp at Cypress Mountain on Wednesday night.

An announcer would say a name and a country and some sort of fuzzy, ghostly apparition would hurtle down the ramp, come into semi-view and twist and turn through the air. One reporter joked that the shadowy outlines looked like figures on a surveillance video.

Foggy, foggy night.

Was this a night where someone was going to win a gold medal or, instead, the opening scenes of a horror movie? Weather had been inclement most of the day and night at Cypress Mountain and there had been some discussion about delaying the final.

But the competition went ahead despite less than ideal viewing — from the finish area and on TV.

Fortunately, mayhem and disorder were limited on a night of brutal conditions, and the elite women were able to perform at an exceptionally high level considering the circumstances.

What had been looking like an intramural scrimmage among Team China was interrupted by the second-to-last competitor, Lydia Lassila of Australia, who won gold.

Lassila, who was second after the first jump, took the lead after the second, scoring 108.49 points and reacted accordingly after seeing her score. She took off her skis and rushed to the back of the finish area to hug her husband on the other side of the barrier.

The pressure then all landed squarely on the final competitor of the night, Xu Mengtao of China, who attempted a jump with a high degree of difficulty and crashed on her landing and finished sixth.

A stunned Lassila seemed as though she couldn't believe she had won gold, the information taking a bit longer to sink in than her winning jump. Her winning point total, a combination of the first and second jumps, was 214.74.

Taking silver was Li Nina of China (207.23) and her countrywoman Guo Xinxin took the bronze (205.22).

Women and Cypress Mountain have been a successful combination for Australia at the Winter Olympics. There have been two gold medals for Australia in Vancouver, the first coming from snowboarder Torah Bright in the women's halfpipe event.

Lassila, who suffered a severe knee injury in qualifying at the Olympics four years ago and required surgery, is the second Australian woman to win gold in aerials, the first coming in 2002 by Alisa Camplin.

"This is what I've worked my whole life for — it's here now," Lassila said.

The United States was nowhere close to the medal race. It did, however, have three women in the finals. Lacy Schnoor was ninth, 16-year-old Ashley Caldwell, competing in her first Olympics 10th and veteran Emily Cook finished 11th.

"It wasn't the result I wanted, but I worked hard to be here and I was happy to put one down," said Cook, who was able to do so after going down on the landing of her first jump.

Caldwell, who started her athletic career as a gymnast, used one word several times to define her Olympic experience as she talked to reporters in the mixed zone.

"I'm having a lot of fun. I put two sweet jumps down," she said. "What I've learned from this is that women are doing sweet jumps, triples. Sweet jumps that I'll have to do in Sochi."

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