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WORLD SPORT

Arakawa wins historic skating gold

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Arakawa's stylish performance earned Japan a first skating gold medal

TORINO, Italy -- Shizuka Arakawa glided into the record books when she captured Japan's first ever Olympic figure skating gold with victory in the women's event, knocking favorite Irina Slutskaya into third.

The Japanese skater surged from third after the short program to vault over early pace setters Sasha Cohen and Slutskaya with a mesmerising free programme.

In winning Japan's first medal of the Turin Games, the 24-year-old Arakawa finished with 191.34 points, while Cohen had 1.83 and Slutskaya 181.44.

She was able to climb to the top of the podium after Cohen and Slutskaya both tumbled to the ice during their free skates.

The 2004 world champion performed to the strains of "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's opera Turandot which ends with the tenor singing a triumphant "Vincero!" or "I will win!".

By the end of her four-minute display, there was no doubting that she had lived up to the message.

From the moment she opened her elegant free programme with a high-flying triple lutz-double loop combination, she was step perfect.

She nailed 11 jumps in total, including five triples, and none of her rivals were able to match her haunting choreography.

At the end as the crowd cheered, Arakawa bowed her head with her hand on her chest, a far cry from the air punches that usually go with a spectacular performance.

Cohen, the U.S. national champion, had a negligible 0.03 lead over Slutskaya following Tuesday's short programme but again failed to deliver on the big occasion.

She tumbled out of the gold medal spot just 20 seconds into her Romeo and Juliet routine when she crashed to the ground on her opening triple lutz.

The errors did not stop there as she also stumbled on her next jump, putting both hands on the ice to stop herself from falling over.

The American, who has never won a major international event, had been expected to attempt 11 jumps but ultimately only landed seven.

Having skated first out of the leading medal contenders, Cohen appeared resigned that she had probably toppled off the podium but was delighted when she sneaked into the silver medal position.

"I'm really excited. I think it was a gift," said the 21-year-old Californian.

"I was very disappointed in my skate. I definitely gave 100 percent of my effort so I have no regrets. It just wasn't my night."

Slutskaya, who finished second at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002, was the last competitor to take the ice and for more than two minutes appeared to be floating through her Rhumba and Flamenco routine.

However, the crowd were hushed into silence when her gold medal hopes evaporated after she crashed to the ice on a triple loop.

Arakawa's victory prevented Slutskaya's attempt to become the first Russian to win the discipline and also stopped her country's predicted sweep of all four figure skating titles.

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