Beyond distractions, U.S. has high hopes WINTER OLYMPICS

February 11, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- This is for Bonnie Blair going for her fourth gold medal and Dan Jansen going for his first.

It is for Donna Weinbrecht coming back from a knee injury and Brian Boitano coming back from the pros.

It is for bobsledders you've never heard of and lugers you've never seen.

This is for the 153 other American athletes at the Winter Olympics who are not named Tonya Harding or Nancy Kerrigan.

Tomorrow, at least for a few brief hours, the American team will be on display during the opening ceremonies of the 1994 Winter Olympics.

The life and times of skaters Harding and Kerrigan have dominated the Olympic buildup, overshadowing nearly everyone and everything associated with these Winter Games.

But not for long.

The United States is going for its best overseas medal haul ever, trying to eclipse the 11 won in Oslo in 1952 and Albertville, France, in 1992.

Sure, some of the stockpile will be built in such made-for-television sports as freestyle skiing and short-track speed skating.

But that should not diminish the accomplishments of a team trying to shed an amazing array of distractions.

Consider:

In October, luger Duncan Kennedy was attacked by German skinheads.

Last month, speed skater Kristin Talbot donated bone marrow to her ailing brother.

And last week, ice dancer Elizabeth Punsalan's father was murdered, allegedly by her brother.

Of course, there was Skategate, the scandal that has ensnared the entire U.S. Olympic movement since the Jan. 6 clubbing of Kerrigan in Detroit.

"There's nothing you can really do about it," Kennedy said. "Anyway, people who are around here for publicity are here for the wrong reason. You should be here to race and have fun and not get on the cover of some magazine."

Here is a sport-by-sport rundown of the U.S. medal chances:

Biathlon

The good news is that the American team is loaded with eight returning Olympians. The bad news is not one of them will finish in the top 25. Dave Jareckie is the top U.S. man in the 10-kilometer event. The best American woman may be Laurie Grover-Tavares, who took up the sport only four years ago.

Bobsled

If this were the NASCAR circuit, the Americans, with their Geoff Bodine-designed sled, would be among the favorites. On this tour, however, the Swiss, Germans and Austrians rule. But with a push from his teammates, driver Brian Shimer could sneak into the medal picture.

Figure skating

Picture this: no American medalists. It could happen.

Among the women, Kerrigan hasn't appeared in a competition in three months. Harding, who faces Tuesday's administrative board hearing by the U.S. Olympic Committee, may have left her best triples back at the mall in Oregon.

And Michelle Kwan, 13, is training in Oslo, just in case Harding is bounced.

No wonder the Vegas oddsmakers are listing Ukraine's Oksana Baiul and France's Surya Bonaly as medal favorites.

Boitano, the 1988 gold medalist, was supposed to be the leading man in what could be the greatest figure skating contest in history. But he has been bypassed by his teammate Scott Davis, the U.S. champion.

Canada brings in four-time world champion Kurt Browning and rising star Elvis Stjoko. Ukraine's Viktor Petrenko also returns to defend his gold.

In ice dance, Punsalan and Jerod Swallow are no match for Great Britain's Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean.

Jenni Meno and Todd Sand should skate smoothly to fifth in pairs, behind favorites Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov.

Ice hockey

They could label this tournament "Hockey Night in Utica." The level of play might not even be up to AHL standards. The Russians even are taking NHL rejects.

In this watered-down field, the Russians and Swedes are clearly the best, but the Americans have a superb chance to medal. They are quick and loaded on offense, led by Todd Marchant of Clarkston University. But, defensively, the U.S. team has been unsteady, although goaltender Mike Dunham turned in two outstanding pre-Olympic efforts.

Luge

For a country that never has earned an Olympic medal before, the Americans are looking awfully tough. Kennedy and Wendell Suckow are ranked Nos. 2 and No. 4 on the World Cup circuit and should challenge Austria's Markus Prock. Cammy Myler, who will carry the flag in the opening ceremonies, recently won her first World Cup race.

Alpine skiing

The American program, in the tank for the better part of a decade, could be resurrected in Norway.

The women, led by Hilary Lindh and Picabo Street, could win three or more medals. And don't count out Julie Parisien, who appears to be coming out of a season-long slump.

There is only one name to remember among the men: Tommy Moe. He is the lone hope in the downhill, Super G and the combined.

Freestyle skiing

Reigning champion Weinbrecht is back on top in the moguls, 15 months after a severe knee injury nearly ended her career. Trace Worthington was the gold-medal lock in men's aerials before sustaining a knee injury last month.

Nordic skiing

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