VANCOUVER-- Canada won four medals on Friday -- three in speed skating and one in curling -- as the normally glory starved nation leaped to lead the world in total gold medals.
Quebec's Charles Hamelin won two gold medals, grabbing the top stop in the Olympic men's short track 5,000 metres relay on Friday and winning a chaotic men's 500m short-track skate. Canada now has 10 golds, while the U.S. has eight and Germany has nine.
Canada's curlers went way off their Olympic script on Friday as the heavily favoured women's team hurled away the gold medal to Sweden in a heart-stopping, high-decibel final on home soil.
The loss of gold in the temple of curling piles pressure not only on Canada's unbeaten men curlers in a final against Norway on Saturday, but also on the other Winter Games sport where Canadians demand dominance -- ice hockey.
The Canadian men's team squared off against Slovakia on Friday night in a semi-final that has brought thousands of people to the streets of downtown Vancouver and hundreds of police officers determined to curb street drinking.
A Canadian win will mean an epic rematch against the United States, who flattened Finland 6-1 in the semi-final and beat Canada 5-3 in a demoralising preliminary round match.
Despite the stunning curling loss, Canada did have the considerable onsolation of sitting atop gold medal table on Friday after Charles Hamelin's win in a chaotic men's 500m short-track skate.
China's short-track skater Wang Meng became the second woman of these Games to win three golds, picking up the women's 1000m. China's women won gold in all four short-track events.
With only two days left in the Games, nasty weather was wreaking havoc on some of the final medal runs.
German skier Maria Riesch grabbed her second gold medal of the Winter Olympics in the slalom on a snowy and foggy Whistler mountain, while her friend Lindsey Vonn went out with a whimper on snow which she said did not suit her.
On Cypress Mountain, Nicolien Sauerbreij of the Netherlands raced through a driving rainstorm and fog to win gold in parallel giant slalom snowboarding by a slim margin.
"I knew I was good but to win under these conditions -- unbelievable," the 30-year-old Dutchwoman said.
A pregnant snowboarder, Amelie Kober, braved those conditions too, but decided to withdraw after she fell.
Norway's men powered through a snowstorm to win the 4x7.5km biathlon relay, with anchorman Ole Einar Bjoerndalen moving within one medal of the leading Winter Olympic tally of 12.
"WILL NOT FORGET"
Germany and Canada led the medal standings with nine golds ahead of the U.S. and Norway at eight apiece.
Canada could have been alone at the top of the medals table with a curling win practically written in stone based on the accuracy of 43-year-old curling skip Cheryl Bernard.
With help from a rowdy home crowd, Canada were leading going into the 10th end, when Bernard for once failed to nail her last rock, allowing Sweden to tie the score at 6-6.
The Canadian skip then miscalculated her final throw again, giving the 2006 gold medallists of Sweden their win.
"I rubbed it and I missed," Bernard said. "It was so close. It was one of those shots I will not forget."
While Germany went to the top with Riesch's second gold, the German skier had to temper her enthusiasm. Little sister Susanne, who was fourth after the first run, skied out on the second leg and ended the race in tears in her sister's arms.
Vonn had kind words for her friend Riesch at the finish line, but lamented her problems with the Whistler snow.
"I am used to the Minnesota and Colorado hard snow," the American told reporters. "This snow doesn"t like me."
Vonn won gold in the women's downhill and bronze in super-G, but suffered her third non-finish in five events in the slalom as she straddled a gate on the first run.
"I have the gold medal I came here for," she added.
Vonn came into the Games with hopes of five medals but the Vonn-couver Olympics were not to be.
The Americans do have opportunities to make some late-Games gold grabs.
In the men's four-man bobsleigh, the American Night Train bob piloted by Steve Holcomb led after two runs, fuelling hopes of a first U.S. men's gold on Saturday in the heavyweight sliding event since 1948.
The shiny black sled packed with 400 kilos of pure American muscle, barely scraped a wall as it blasted down Whistler's ice rollercoaster but the world's fastest track produced six crashes, all on the 13th corner nicknamed 50-50.
Maybe they should start calling it 40-60.
American short-track skater Apolo Anton Ohno lost his chance to win his third medal of these Games and his eighth in three Olympics after he was disqualified in the men's 500m won by Hamelin.
Hamelin celebrated by passionately kissing girlfriend Marianne St Gelais, who herself won silver in the women's event over the same distance.