Archive for Friday, February 10, 2006

For now, it’s Turin time

February 10, 2006


— The Super Bowl is now five days behind us. Spring training doesn't start until next week. The basketball and hockey playoffs don't begin for months.

Tonight, it's all about the flame.

The Italians are promising a spectacular (and fashionable) Opening Ceremony to kick off the XX Olympic Winter Games - an eclectic and energetic show featuring everything from a mosh pit and dancing trees to orange-clad in-liners with flames shooting out of their helmets.

With an estimated 2 billion viewers watching worldwide on television, the production undoubtedly will be far different than the 1956 Opening Ceremonies of the Cortina d'Ampezzo Olympics - the last time the Winter Games were held in Italy.

Broadcast in black and white, they were the first Olympics to be televised. Just over 800 athletes from 32 nations competed, compared to the 2,000-plus competitors from 82 countries that had checked into Turin as of Thursday.

Another historical note: The 1956 Olympics were also the last in which the figure-skating competition was held outdoors.

Then as now, the focus of the Olympics is winning medals. But unlike past Games, the U.S. Olympic Committee won't predict how many medals it thinks the Americans should win in Turin.

"We don't want to say the number of medals," Jim Scherr, USOC chief, said Thursday. "We will be pleased and proud of their performance whether they win or lose."

Scherr's reluctance to set a mark is probably wise. It will be difficult for the Americans to match their medal total of the 2002 Salt Lake Games, where their goal was 20 and they won 34.

The big winners of those Games: the men's snowboarding sweep in halfpipe, three medals total in men's and women's bobsled, two medals in doubles luge, and 11 total medals in speedskating (eight in long track, three in short track).

Scherr said Thursday that nations usually experienced a drop-off in medals - as much as 41 percent - four years after playing host to the Games. That would mean more than a dozen fewer medals for the U.S. team in Turin.

"In Salt Lake City, we had a breakthrough performance for the U.S. team with 34 medals and 75 top-eight finishes," Scherr said. "In Salt Lake, we were on home soil with a friendly crowd. You're eating home-cooked meals in front of friends and family. This is a significantly different environment in terms of time zones and approach, but we have great athletes to address these challenges."

Of the expected drop-off, Scherr said: "We would hope we will be able to break that trend."

The 211-member U.S. contingent could do it. Athletes had 25 podium finishes in world championship events or their equivalent last winter, fourth-best among winter nations.

"We won't have home-court advantage, but we will have every returning (Olympic) medalist" in long-track speedskating, said U.S. speedskater Chris Witty, who was selected Thursday as flag bearer for the Opening Ceremonies. "Our goal is to match or better what we did in Salt Lake City. We have way more depth on this team."

Just like past Olympics, the USOC will award prize money for athletes who win medals, paying $25,000 for a gold medal, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze.

"I know this team performed better in the year leading up to the Games compared to Salt Lake," Scherr said. "We feel that this is without question the strongest team we'll field for the Olympic Games."

The United States will be led in Turin by a ski team that's so strong the alpine organization created a slogan: "Best in the World."

U.S. Alpine's goal is eight medals between the men and women's program. The Americans will know if the goal is attainable beginning with Sunday's men's downhill.

Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves represent their best hopes for a medal. Miller was the overall 2005 World Cup winner, while the 32-year-old Rahlves has 12 World Cup victories in his career (nine in downhill). He also posted the fastest run in Thursday's training at Sestriere.

"We're out here to amaze everybody," Rahlves said.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.