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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 February 2006, 22:06 GMT
Arakawa wins figure skating gold
Shizuka Arakawa
The flawless Arakawa was a comfortable winner in the end
Japan's Shizuka Arakawa stunned the favourites Sasha Cohen and Irina Slutskaya to claim Olympic glory.

The Japanese skater produced a superb free programme to climb from third to first on a night her chief rivals failed to deliver at the Palavela rink.

America's Cohen, the leader from the short programme, hit the ice twice during her routine to finish second.

And Russian favourite Slutskaya, the silver medallist in 2002, fell once as she slid to bronze.

The 27-year-old had been attempting to complete a golden sweep of the figure skating medals for Russia, as well as becoming her country's first ever Olympic ladies' champion.

I have no regrets - it just wasn't my night
Sasha Cohen
But Slutskaya, a two-time world champion, made a costly mistake midway through her programme to miss her chance of sealing a fairytale comeback gold three years after being diagnosed with a serious heart condition.

For Cohen, 21, it was a first Olympic medal four years after finishing fourth in Salt Lake City, and a deserved one after recovering well from her two tumbles early on.

"I was very disappointed with my skate," Cohen said.

"I definitely gave 100% in my effort, I gave it my all. So I have no regrets with that. But it just wasn't my night."

The undoubted star of the night, however, was the 24-year-old Arakawa.

Trailing Cohen by only a point after the short programme, the Japanese skater scored a personal best 125.32 points with her free routine, a sparkling display set to Puccini's Turandot.

Arakawa's total of 191.34 left her a huge 7.98 points clear of her more illustrious rivals and earned the Japanese team their first medal of the Turin Games.

I want to give hope to everybody who watches me skate
Japan's Shizuka Arakawa

It was a stunning return to form for Arakawa, who could only finish ninth at last year's world championship when defending the title she won in 2004.

Arakawa said the gold medal had vindicated her decision to stick with the sport, with her 2004 form leaving her on the verge of giving up.

"I thought about quitting - I'm very glad now that I chose to continue," said the 24-year-old.

"I want to give hope to everybody who watches me skate.

"I made a mistake in the programme but I could skate with pleasure. I was hoping to win a medal but I'm surprised - it hasn't sunk in."

Team-mate Fumie Suguri was fourth followed by Canada's Joannie Rochette and Americans Kimmie Meissner and Emily Hughes, the late replacement for Michelle Kwan.


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