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China Wins 1st Ever Olympic Snow Gold
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Han Xiaopeng of China came from nowhere to win the gold medal in the men's freestyle skiing aerial event in Sauze d'Oulx, Italy on Thursday, just one day after his female compatriots missed their gold medal opportunity at the Turin Winter Olympics.

The 22-year-old Han scored a total of 250.77 points from two almost flawless jumps to upset a field of big names including current World Cup leader Kyle Nissen of Canada, and Alexei Girshin of Belarus, the bronze medalist at the last Games in Salt Lake City.

Dmitri Dashinski of Belarus took the silver with 248.68 points, while the bronze went to Vladimir Lebedev of Russia on 246.76 points. Girshin was fourth and Nissen finished a disappointing fifth.

"I never thought this would happen," Han gushed after winning the gold. "I feel like I'm in a dream."

Dashinski led the field after the first jump with 131.42 points, nearly one point ahead of Han. Despite a lower degree of difficulty, Han's last jump was judged to be better in take-off, execution and landing.

"I am so happy to win China its first ever Olympic gold medal in snow events," Han said, who left acrobatics for freestyle skiing in 1995.

"I think the men's aerials is designed for China and I'm happy to have been the one to make this a reality," he added.

In Wednesday's women's event, the Chinese trio of Guo Xinxin, Li Nina and Xu Nanan were in the top three places after the first jumps, but failed to secure the title following mediocre second jumps.

Han said that he drew a lot of inspiration from his teammates' "heroic performance."

"I said to myself yesterday that I would fulfill their dreams. Today, it's a dream come true," he said.

Dashinski blamed judges for his failure to win the gold.

"I was trying to win gold ... but there was a problem with the judging," he said through an interpreter.

(Xinhua News Agency February 24, 2006)

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