Crosby's golden goal caps Canada's games 

Sid the Kid has a new label: Olympic hero.

Already considered Canada's greatest player since Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby did something the Great One never did, scoring the winning goal in overtime to give Canada a 3-2 victory over the United States in perhaps the most important game in the history of this hockey-obsessed nation.

By winning the final event of the Vancouver Olympics, Canada earned its 14th gold medal — the most by any country at any Winter Olympics.

Wow. Even the disappointed Americans had to appreciate what a Hollywood-esque finish this was.

"It doesn't feel real. It feels like a dream. It just feels like dream," Crosby said.

As much as it stung the Americans, all they had to do was remember the pre-tournament talk about them maybe getting bronze. Of course, expectations changed when they charged into the finals without ever trailing in a game. But in this one, they got behind early and never led.

"Some day we'll be proud of what we accomplished, but we came here with the belief we could win a gold medal," captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "It's going to be tough to swallow."

Still, their silver was the 37th medal won by the United States at these games, also the most by any country at any Winter Olympics. The U.S. won the medals race for the first time since 1932.

Crosby's goal set off a wild celebration throughout Canada. In downtown Vancouver, fans set off fireworks in the street, climbed atop bus-stop rooftops and danced on tables in bars.

Even IOC president Jacques Rogge got pumped up, gesturing for the crowd inside the arena to cheer louder before he put the gold medal around Crosby's neck.

A police spokeswoman referred to the madness as "good-natured."

Besides, crowds were likely to slow down for the closing ceremony later in the evening.

Figure skater Joannie Rochette was chosen to carry Canada's flag into the arena. She earned fans throughout the world by winning a bronze medal just days after her mother died of a heart attack while visiting the Olympics.

The 24-year-old skater from Quebec said she was surprised one of the gold medalists wasn't chosen to carry the flag.

"It's been a tough week for me, but I want ... to walk into that stadium with a smile on my face," she said. "I achieved my goals. I want to celebrate with my teammates tonight."

In the next-to-last event, which finished just before the hockey game started and will be honored at the closing ceremony, Petter Northug of Norway won the 50-kilometer classical cross-country race. He also became the only man to win four medals at these games; two gold, a silver and a bronze.

The Vancouver Games got off to a difficult start, with a Georgian luger dying in a crash during training hours before the opening ceremony to a technical glitch that kept one of the five spires of the Olympic cauldron from rising under the ice. Bad weather shuffled the Alpine skiing schedule, fans were angry they were kept far from an outdoor cauldron by a barbed-wire fence and one of many protests turned violent, with newspaper bins thrown through the windows of a department store.

But the longer the Olympics went, the more good vibes began flowing, especially as the Canadians turned into some of the biggest winners. Red was everywhere — in the stands at all events and throughout the streets, with the locals savoring their role as gracious hosts.

"We find ourselves in a brand new culture, and it is clear Canadians have taken a stand for sport," said Marcel Aubut, the president-elect of Canada's Olympic committee, which was celebrating the success of its $117 million "Own the Podium" program. "We have turned a corner and must never look back."

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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