With the 2002 Games approaching, here's what to expect--from
skaters to skeletons
The opening ceremonies of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics are
three months away. With those Games promising new sports, new
stars and new concerns--and with World Cup events and team trials
looming--it seems a good time to take a look into a snowy crystal
ball for answers to a few key questions.
Does U.S. skating have Kwan-tity and quality?
This year's group of U.S. women's figure skaters sure does. Only
three from the superb quartet of Michelle Kwan, Sarah Hughes,
Sasha Cohen and Angela Nikodinov will make the U.S. team, which
will be chosen following the national championships in Los
Angeles from Jan. 6 through 13. Whichever three make the squad,
look for two to join Russia's Irina Slutskaya on the medal stand
in Salt Lake City. Kwan, 21, has four world titles to go with the
Olympic silver she won in Nagano in 1998. She's a polished artist
and the sentimental favorite. Though she lacks a signature trick,
she rarely beats herself. The 16-year-old Hughes has matured,
shedding some of her on-ice giddiness to earn a world bronze last
March. She also has a seeming immunity to pressure. Cohen, 17,
the 2000 U.S. silver medalist, has recovered from the fractured
vertebra that sidelined her last season and is working on a
quadruple Salchow that could tip the technical marks in her
favor. Nikodinov, 21, is perhaps the world's best spinner but is
also a nervous competitor.
Should we believe in miracles?
With Herb Brooks back as coach, will the U.S. men's hockey team
inspire the nation, as the 1980 squad did with its upset gold
medal in Lake Placid? Not likely. Will the players embarrass the
nation by throwing fits and furniture in the athletes' village,
as they did in Nagano? Also not likely in these sober times. With
NHLers Tony Amonte, Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk and Doug Weight,
this squad has as skilled a collection of forwards as any at the
Games. Look past Brian Leetch, however, and the defense is thin.
The team must also choose a starting goalie who either lacks
experience (Brent Johnson, Mike Dunham or Damian Rhodes) or has
declining skills and creaky knees (Mike Richter). U.S. gold medal
hopes in hockey rest with the women, the '98 champs, who are
bound for another finals showdown against Canada.
What will be the coolest new sport?
It's not exactly new, but the skeleton event returns to the Games
after a 54-year absence. Think of it as full-frontal luge.
Sliders face forward on their sleds, their chins inches from the
ice as they career down the run at speeds of up to 80 mph.
Provided they survive, the U.S. men are capable of a sweep.
Lincoln DeWitt, a 34-year-old self-proclaimed computer nerd, was
the 2000-01 World Cup champion. Jim Shea Jr., 33, the 1999 world
champ and grandson of speed skating great Jack Shea, would be a
third-generation Olympian. Chris Soule, 28, a world bronze
medalist in '97, is a stuntman and actor who appeared in G.I.
Jane and Sex and the City.
What's the word on the Street?
Saying the honor "would be a cherry on top of a really amazing
career," Picabo Street, still the most recognizable U.S. face and
name on the slopes, has campaigned to carry the American flag at
the opening ceremonies. First, though, Street, 30, must make the
team. On Jan. 28, U.S. coaches will name their squads, based
largely on showings in this season's World Cup races. In 1998, a
month after winning the Super G event at the Nagano Games, Street
suffered multiple fractures of her left femur and tore the ACL in
her right knee in a horrific fall at the World Cup finals in
Crans-Montana, Switzerland. She has done little since, missing
two full seasons, performing poorly in Europe last season and
winning some Nor-Am regional races against lesser competition in
This year she has named her skis after Dale Earnhardt and Arnold
Schwarzenegger for inspiration and gotten engaged to John
Mulligan, a ski-waxing technician she met last year at Mammoth
Mountain in California. Still, it will take more than a buff and
a buss for Street to realize her star-spangled ambitions.
Athletes in Uniform
From the Games To the Battle?
When Jeremy Teela and Lawton Redman, teammates on the U.S.
biathlon squad, returned to the house they share in Heber, Utah,
after a morning training run on Sept. 11 and heard the news of
the terrorist attacks, they realized it could have an immediate
impact on their athletic future. Like many other top-level
competitors in biathlon--a sport that combines rifle marksmanship
and cross-country skiing--Teela and Redman, ranked Nos. 2 and 3,
respectively, in the country, are members of the U.S. Army and
could be mobilized before the Games begin. "I'd have no
reservations about serving," says Redman, an infantry sergeant
with the Vermont Army National Guard. "My obligation to my
country comes before my personal interest in biathlon."
Teela, who is a specialist in the Army, and Redman are members of
the Army's World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), which permits
soldier-athletes to train and represent the U.S. in international
competition while maintaining military standing. WCAP
participants conduct clinics and visit schools on the Army's
behalf. Five biathletes and three bobsledders from WCAP competed
at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. The program, which was formalized in
'94, supports 70 athletes in as many as 12 sports, including 18
athletes in training for the Salt Lake City Games. As of Sunday
none had been reassigned.
The four-man, four-woman U.S. Olympic biathlon team, which will
be named on Jan. 3, should have strong representation from WCAP.
Rachel Steer, the top-ranked U.S. female biathlete, is not in the
military, but four of those in the hunt for the remaining spots
are: Jill Krause, Andrea Nahrgang, Kristina Viljanen Sabasteanski
and Kara Salmela. Sabasteanski, an administrative specialist with
the Vermont Army National Guard, pondered the irony of the
prospect that she could be one of the 3,400 Guard troops called
up for duty in Utah to protect the Games. "I can serve the
country by competing," says Sabasteanski, whose husband, Matthew,
a staff sergeant with the National Guard, is an event manager at
the Olympic biathlon site, in aptly named Soldier Hollow. "If I
can serve my country in other ways, it would be just as much of
Security in Salt Lake City
No Backpacks, No Scrolls
Officials from the IOC, SLOC and law-enforcement agencies are
assuring the public that Salt Lake City will be safe during the
Games. "There will be increased manpower and more surveillance
[as a response to the Sept. 11 attacks]," says IOC president
Jacques Rogge, "but the basic strategies have not changed.
Spectators will not have a diminished experience."
SLOC president Mitt Romney, however, is advising spectators to
allow up to an hour to get through security lines at events and
has announced that coolers and backpacks will be prohibited. The
federal government has added $30 to $40 million to its original
$200 million security budget, and 2,000 National Guard troops to
the 1,400 already designated to check spectators and their bags.
Romney has also hinted that air traffic into and out of Salt Lake
City will be halted during opening ceremonies on Feb. 8 and
closing ceremonies on Feb. 24. Outdoor concerts during the Games
will be moved indoors or inside fenced areas.
Finally, despite Rogge's assurances, the Olympic experience will
be diminished--at least for fans of ancient Aramaic scholarship.
The Mormon Church recently announced that for security reasons,
it was canceling a display of the Dead Sea Scrolls that had been
planned for the two weeks of the Games.
COLOR PHOTO: NANCIE BATTAGLIA Shea is one of the U.S.'s skeleton crew, which could sweep the Games' in-your-face new event.
Speed skater Gunda Niemann-Stirnemann of Germany, winner of 19
world titles and three Olympic golds and the woman who last March
took the 3,000- and 5,000-meter crowns at the single-distance
worlds, announced on Oct. 17 that she'll miss the Salt Lake
Games. Niemann-Stirnemann, 35--who could have tied the women's
Winter Olympic record for career medals (10, held by former
Soviet cross-country skier Raisa Smetanina) with a pair in Salt
Lake City--is expecting her first child in May....
Two-time U.S. Alpine Olympian Chad Fleischer reports that
Austrian ski star Hermann Maier is doubtful for the Salt Lake
City Games. "I talked to friends on the team over there," says
Fleischer, "and they said it would take a miracle for him to be
ready." Maier broke his right leg in a motorcycle accident
outside Salzburg, Austria, in August....
Ed Moses set a U.S. short-course record of 26.92 seconds in the
50-meter breaststroke and Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands beat
Therese Alshammar of Sweden in the 50-meter butterfly and 50
freestyle at the inaugural Novo Nordisk Sprint Cup in East
Meadow, N.Y., last Saturday. The brainchild of U.S. sprint star
Gary Hall Jr., the event included no race longer than 200 meters
and awarded $310,000 in prize money, including $20,000 to the
winners of the men's and women's 50 free.