Canadian Firefighter Oldest Gold Medalist

Updated: 02-20-2006 08:52:02 PM

AP Sports Writer

CESANA, Italy - Duff Gibson, a firefighter from a family of Olympians, blazed to a gold medal and teammate Jeff Pain slid to silver Friday as the Canadians staked claim to world skeleton supremacy. The 39-year-old Gibson is the oldest individual gold medalist in Winter Olympics history.

Norway's Magnar Solberg was 35 when he won gold at the 1972 Sapporo Games in the 20km biathlon.

Earlier in the week, Duff predicted at least two Canadians would wind up on the podium, and he backed it up by powering down the 19-curve course in a two-run time of 1 minute, 55.88 seconds.26 seconds ahead of Pain, a two-time defending World Cup champion.

"It has been a dream of mine to go out on top," an emotional Gibson said. "That was it ... those are my last two runs."

Canada almost took home a complete set of medals, but Paul Boehm was fourth.

Gregor Staehli of Switzerland won the bronze, overtaking two racers from Britain on his second run.

"We actually talked about 1-2-3, that was the ultimate dream and the ultimate goal," said Pain, who initially thought Boehm had finished sixth before being corrected by coaches. "He was fourth? What do I know."

The 1-2 sweep gave Canada three Olympic skeleton medals Mellisa Hollingsworth-Richards won a bronze on Thursday and touched off a wild celebration by fans waving the country's red-and-white flags.

The troubled U.S. team, which came into the games red-faced thanks to a pile of pre-Turin embarrassment, is leaving with no medals after winning three at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002.

The U.S. lost its coach to a sexual harassment scandal, qualified only one woman and had its top slider go down for using a hair-restoration product on the banned substances list. Then, American sliders Eric Bernotas (6th), Kevin Ellis (17th) and Chris Soule (25th) were non-factors in the 27-man field.

Soule, brought in as a last-minute replacement when Zach Lund was suspended for using a banned substance, finished behind racers from such winter-sports hotbeds as Bermuda, Ireland, South Africa and Australia.

A former bobsled driver and speedskating champion, Gibson switched to skeleton in 1998, and four years later he finished 10th when Jim Shea of the U.S. took gold in skeleton's return to the Olympics.

Wearing a helmet with a flame inside Canada's leaf, Gibson set a track record of 57.80 seconds on his first run and led Pain by .18 seconds as the two prepared for their second trip down.

As the next-to-last slider, Pain put the pressure on by posting a 58.16, slamming his left shoulder hard into the left wall near the finish. But on a track where he won a World Cup race last year, Gibson was up to the challenge and ripped off a time of 58.08 seconds.

After jumping off his sled, Gibson hugged Pain and then wife, Jennifer, who had tiny Canadian flags painted on both cheeks of her face.

Gibson's father was set to participate for Canada in judo at the 1968 Olympics but the sport was dropped before the Mexico City Games. In 1984, his uncle competed in rowing for Canada.

Now, the Gibsons have a medal winner all their own.

With a light snow falling gently and the temperature dropping fast, Britain's Adam Pengilly opened the competition with a fearsome first run, setting a track record of 58.37 seconds. It stayed on the books for about two minutes.

Kristan Bromley one-upped his teammate with a 58.35, and the two Brits were poised for possible medals going into the second run.

But Staehli, who won bronze at Salt Lake, leapfrogged them both, denying Bromley a chance to leave the games with a souvenir medal like his girlfriend, Shelley Rudman, who won Britain's first medal a silver on Thursday.