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February 9, 2006


TORINO: WHO TO WATCH

As the Opening Ceremony approaches this Friday night, it is time to start thinking about sports!  You undoubtedly are well versed in who will do what in the figure skating arena or in the hockey rink.  Who else is there to root for?

Speed Skating:  Chicago native Shani Davis is the first African-American to make the men's U.S. Olympic speed skating team, and hopes to emulate his hero, the legendary Bonnie Blair, and bring home gold, particularly in the long-track 1500m.  Teammate Chad Hedrick will bring a little of the MTV-generation along for the ride.  Yet he’s better known for his work on wheels, rather than blades, because in a former life he was the 50-time world inline skate champion.  After seeing his friend and former inline rival Derek Parra win gold in Salt Lake on the ice, the Texan made the switch and now looks to dazzle the world with his unorthodox skating technique and rock-n-roll style.  In Torino, he may be the only American to skate five events, having qualified for the 1000m, 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m, and with a chance to skate in the team pursuit.  Could he equal the five golds won by Eric Heiden in Lake Placid?   Lastly, don’t foret veteran skaters Casey FitzRandolph and Chris Witty, or Salt Lake star Jennifer Rodriguez, all of whom will work to make the speed skating venue – Oval Lingotto – one of the most exciting in Torino.

Freestyle Skiing:  On the slopes, you will recognize New England native Hannah Kearney by her trademark flower-adorned blonde braids clipped to her helmet as she skillfully maneuvers the moguls course.  After winning the U.S. Olympic trails at the end of 2005, she secured her place on the Olympic team.  But the road wasn’t easy – she placed 8th in the qualifying round, seemed angry with herself, and changed her course down the mountain in the moguls competition, a risky but successful move that bodes well for her chances in Torino.  And make sure to check out a new event, snowboard cross – or SBX, for us cool kids in the know, a combination of a giant slalom downhill run and the familiar aerial halfpipe, with four athletes racing together.  In short?  It’s madness on snow, with boarders shredding the hill with speed and airborne style, often colliding with one another, and the surrounding flora and fauna.  Two Americans are world champions in this event – Seth Wescott and Lindsey Jacobellis – and hope to add Olympic gold to their trophy shelves.

Ice Dancing: Ice dancing had its scandalous moments in Salt Lake, but the buzz on the ice for Torino is the chance for the U.S. to grab its first medal in the event since 1976 with Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto.  Belbin became a U.S. citizen on December 31, 2005, making the native-born Canadian eligible to compete for the American squad.  Under the old rules, Belbin, who secured her green card in 2002, would not have been eligible for citizenship until next year, despite the fact that she has lived in Detroit since 1998.  The new bill signed by President Bush allows people “of extraordinary ability” to skip the mandatory waiting period, meaning that the Americans have a decent shot at tackling the longtime Russian/Soviet dominance of this event, although Russian pair Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov, who are coached by Navka’s husband, are favored for gold.

Biathlon:  Combining cross-country skiing with rifle marksmanship, this is one of the most difficult winter sports to become skilled at, as athletes need to be in peak physical condition and be able to steady themselves and shoot precisely.  It has been compared (or at least the analogy we use in the Research Room) to running up a couple of flights of stairs and then trying to thread a needle quickly.  While skiing and shooting may not be your thing, but with twin sisters Lanny and Tracy Barnes competing for the United States, give it a try.  And Sarah Konrad will become the first U.S. woman to compete in two different winter sports:  biathlon and cross-country skiing.  In terms of history, Norway’s Ole Elinar Bjorndalen, the “Biathlon King,” could win four individual gold medals in this sport, which he did in Salt Lake, and add a fifth in the team event, which would bring his gold total to 10, a record.

Luge:  While Germans might dominate this sport, it also includes a roster of some of the most interesting athletes in Torin.  Anne Abernathy of the Virgin Islands is known as Grandma Luge.  The 52-year-old will be making her sixth Olympic appearance here – the oldest woman ever to compete in a Winter Games. 





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