SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- On arguably the greatest day for Americans at the 2002 Winter Olympics, Vonetta Flowers made it historic, too.
She became the first black athlete ever to win a gold medal at a Winter Games when she and Jill Bakken won the inaugural women's bobsled event Tuesday. Their dramatic victory also ended the United States' 46-year medal drought in the sport.
"Hopefully this will encourage other African-American boys and girls to give winter sports a try," said Flowers, a 28-year-old former college track star from Birmingham, Ala.
The bobsled gold, combined with speedskater Derek Parra's gold in the 1,500 meters and skier Joe Pack's silver in freestyle aerials, gave the host country 21 medals. That surpasses the goal of 20 that was ridiculed when the U.S. Olympic Committee suggested it nearly a year ago.
With five days left, Americans could double their previous record haul of 13.
Some prime contenders to add to the collection: The women's hockey team, which advanced to the championship game against rival Canada, and figure skater Michelle Kwan, who got a head start toward gold by winning the short program. Those events conclude Thursday.
There were seven gold medals up for grabs Wednesday, starting with men's and women's skeleton, the headfirst, luge-like sledding event. The other finals were the men's biathlon relay, women's slalom, women's 1,500-meter speedskating, men's 1,500-meter short-track speedskating and women's short-track relay.
-- WOMEN'S BOBSLED: There was no controversy surrounding Bakken's choice of Flowers as a partner, as there was when fellow American Jean Racine dumped best friend Jen Davidson for Gea Johnson as her brakewoman.
Despite all the focus on the Racine-Johnson tandem known as USA-1, it was USA-2 that stole the show.
A record start led to a victory over two German squads that had won every World Cup race of the 2001-02 season. USA-1 wound up fifth, undone in part by Johnson's hamstring injury.
"It's amazing," Bakken said.
Flowers is a former track star at the University of Alabama-Birmingham whose Summer Olympics dream ended with two knee operations and ankle surgery. A December invitation to try out for the bobsled team led to her rapid rise to the top of a new sport, in a new season.
"I have truly been blessed," she said.
The United States had not won an Olympic bobsled medal since Arthur Tyler took the four-man bronze in 1956 in Cortina, Italy, and had not won gold since his brother, Francis, took the four-man in 1948 at St. Moritz.
-- FIGURE SKATING: Kwan was so relaxed, it looked like she was going through another practice on the ice where she'd been training for a week.
Only this time, it was the real deal. And she nailed it.
Kwan, a four-time world champion and six-time U.S. title winner, edged Russian rival Irina Slutskaya to win the short program, which counts for one-third of the overall score. The rest comes in the free skate Thursday.
"I am well prepared, in good shape, healthy," said Kwan, who won a silver medal four years ago and regretted not spending more time in Nagano, a mistake she avoided here. "What I have done, no regrets. Just go out and have fun."
American Sasha Cohen was third and teammate Sarah Hughes fourth.
-- AERIALS: Eric Bergoust knew his last jump would be memorable and it was.
Bergoust, the reigning gold medalist, went for a spectacular finish and landed on his back, dropping him from first to last.
"I'm glad I didn't go out there and go conservative and finish fourth," he said. "I wanted to get the gold or last, and I got last."
The gold went to Ales Valenta of the Czech Republic, while Pack, who grew up in Park City, used the energy from his hometown crowd to pull out a silver medal. Alexei Grichin of Belarus won bronze.
-- WOMEN'S HOCKEY: They could've saved the preliminaries and jumped straight to the finals.
As expected, the United States will play Canada for gold on Thursday. The Americans beat Sweden 4-0 and the Canadians beat Finland 7-3 in semifinals Tuesday.
In consolation games, Russia beat Germany 5-0 for fifth place and China beat Kazakstan 2-1 in overtime for seventh.
-- CROSS-COUNTRY-SKIING: The 1.5-kilometer cross country sprints were as chaotic as expected. In their Olympic debut, the men's and women's events had frantic finishes, fallen favorites and charges of foul play.
Tor Arne Hetland of Norway came away with the men's gold, followed by Germany's Peter Schlickenrieder and Italy's Cristian Zorzi. Julija Tchepalova of Russia took the women's gold, with Evi Sachenbacher of Germany getting silver and Anita Moen of Norway the bronze medalist.
-- WOMEN'S CURLING: Britain earned a spot in the women's semifinals against once-beaten Canada by eliminating Sweden, then Germany in a tiebreaker. The United States plays Switzerland in Wednesday's other semifinal.
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