By sportswriter Xie Peilin
TURIN, Feb. 17 (Xinhuanet) -- Robel Teklemariam became the first Ethiopian to compete in a Winter Olympics after he lined up for the men's cross-country 15km classical in Pragelato, Italy on Friday whereas Russian biathlete Olga Pyleva was handed a two-year ban for her positive test of stimulant carphedon at the Turin Winter Olympics.
Teklemariam, 31, was only cleared to race on Wednesday after a five-day suspension for an abnormally high red blood cell count, a case that has been clouding more than a dozen biathletes for the Turin Games.
"I would have finished this race even if I had to crawl on my knees," said the Ethiopian who finished 84th of the 97 competitors."It was a hard, hard race but a lot of fun."
The men's classical title was eventually won by defending champion Andrus Veerpalu, who awarded Estonia their third cross-country skiing gold medal at the Games.
After Kristina Simgun took the women's 15km pursuit and 10km classical, it was her fellow Estonian Veerpalu who clocked in 38 minutes and 1.3 seconds to win the men's 15km classical, beating Czech Lukas Bauer and German Tobias Angerer to second and third respectively.
On the feat of three gold medals for a small Estonian town of Otepaa, the seven-time world champion said: "I don't think it is too much. Otepaa is one of the best training centers, and we have just proven it. For Estonia three gold medals are a great accomplishment. Estonia is a small country but cross country is the most beloved sport in Estonia."
While jubilation engulfed the Estonians, the Russians were dragged into abyss as Pyleva, the first competitor to be expelled from the Turin Games, was hit with a two-year ban by the International Biathlon Union, and men's figure skating champion Yevgeny Plushenko survived the scare of a car crash en route to his trip back home.
Pyleva, who was stripped of the silver in the 15km individual biathlon, will also face the Italian criminal prosecution as athletes are liable for conviction if caught doping under Italian strict anti-doping laws.
However, the worst-case scenario for Pyleva would be a two-year suspended prison sentence as the International Olympic Committee and the Italian government agreed before the Games that nobody convicted could be directly jailed.
The mother of a nine-year-old son from Siberia, explained that she took the drug for an injury from her private doctor Nina Vinogradova.
"It is a huge and horrible mistake," said Pyleva, winner of the10km pursuit at Salt Lake City four years ago, "I hope they believe me. I have spoken only the truth. The worst thing for me is having a doping scandal, I just never thought it would happen to me."
For the newly-crowned men's figure skating Olympic champion, Friday was also a mayhem day as Plushenko escaped a car crash incident unhurt in the early hours of the morning on his trip back to Moscow.
He fortunately stepped onto the flight in time and safe. And the 23-year-old is expected back in Turin for the Olympic exhibition gala on February 24.
Tanja Frieden of Switzerland became the lucky winner in the Olympic debut event of women's snowboard cross as race leader and world champion Lindsey Jacobellis of the United States fell on the final straight trying to grab her board.
And the Swiss victory also broke the monopoly of the Americans who have won three of the four snowboard gold medals after Seth Wescott won the men's cross on Thursday and Shaun White and HannahTeter bagged the halfpipe titles earlier in the week.
Of the day's last final, Duff Gibson of Canada came out the winner in the men's skeleton, beating compatriot Jeff Pain and Gregor Staehli of Switzerland to second and third.
On a day of only four gold medals at stake, the Alpine weather again caused the women's combined downhill to be canceled and organizers rescheduled it on Saturday.
The United States so far kept the lead on the medal tally with six golds, three silvers and one bronze, while both Germany and Russia chased up closely with five gold medals each. Enditem