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
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.
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
and add a fifth in the team event, which would bring his gold total to 10,
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.