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Japan jumps for gold; U.S. curlers go home empty-handed

There was too much snow on the ski slopes, and a little redemption on the ski jump.

Kazuyoshi Funaki sparked long-awaited celebrations and tears of welled-up emotion among Japanese fans today (Saturday night EST) with a performance of soaring perfection off the 120-meter hill to give the nation its first Olympic ski jump title in 26 years.Silver medalist on the 90m hill Wednesday, the 22-year-old star made sure of the gold this time with a massive leap of 132.5 meters, accompanied by a sweep of perfect style marks, to win the title.

Funaki seemed to stay aloft for hours, hanging in the air and barely moving his arms and skis. When he landed, the whole crowd knew he had won the gold and erupted in a huge release of pent-up emotion.

The last time a Japanese jumper won an Olympic event was 1972 in Sapporo, the last time the Winter Games were held in this country. That was a 1-2-3 sweep before a crowd that included the nation's emperor.

The crowd, minus any Japanese royalty this time, was out in hopes of another triumph Sunday, after Funaki's near-miss off the small hill. And at one stage, it looked like a 1-2 Japanese finish.

Masahiko Harada had already smashed the hill record of 132 meters with a leap of 136 and appeared to have clinched second place ahead of 90m gold medalist Jani Soininen.

Harada soared so far it was difficult to measure the distance because there were no lines across the landing area at the point he hit the snow. That meant no score went up on the scoreboard and it was only when everyone had finished and the medalists were lining up that it was confirmed Soininen had won the silver.

Harada and Soininen even went to the wrong places on the podium before the final results were confirmed and they swapped over.

"I made a mistake in the first jump," a tearful Harada said after he had heard the result confirmed. "I needed four more meters."

At least his first individual bronze medal partly made up for his two Olympic flops.

For the Olympic skiers, it was the same old story today (Saturday night EDT): Another day, another delay, another postponement.

An overnight storm dumped 6 fresh inches of snow on the Happo'one course, forcing a rescheduling of the men's super-G until Monday, when two other Alpine races are already set. One day earlier, rain washed out the same race.

In the first eight days of Alpine events at the Nagano Games, not a single race has gone off as scheduled. Four days have been complete washouts. And forecasters were saying up to 8 more inches of snow were possible on the course.

With the games now half-finished, the medal chart looks this way: Norway leads with 14 - five gold, six silver, three bronze. Germany is second with 13 (5-4-4), while Russia (5-3-1) and Austria (1-2-6) follow with nine.

The United States sits tied for sixth with its six medals (2-1-3).

- CURLING: The U.S. curlers, after making a strong run to reach the medal round, head home from Na-ga-no empty-handed. The U.S. team lost the bronze medal game 10-6 to Norway.

A day earlier, the Americans won a dramatic last-shot victory over Japan to reach the semifinals but were quickly defeated by gold medal favorite Canada. Canada meets Switzerland later Sunday for the gold medal.

- SPEED SKATING: Clap skates? Catriona LeMay Doan applauds the innovation. The Canadian, who skated in obscurity under the arrival of the new skates, set her second Olympic record in as many days to win the gold in the women's 500-meter speed skating.

Teammate Susan Auch, the defending silver medalist, finished second again. Tomomi Okazaki of Japan was third after two runs over two days.

The best U.S. finisher, Chris Witty of West Allis, Wis., tumbled from sixth place to 10th after a slow second run.