U.S. luge `long shot' says he can't play it safe

ON THE OLYMPICS

Olympics

January 03, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Most of his injuries have come on liquid, not frozen water, so U.S. luge team member Tony Benshoof says he won't be playing it safe as the second half of the World Cup season begins.

Benshoof, holder of the record for fastest slider in the world, says he realizes his hope for an Olympic medal on Feb. 11 is "a bit of a long shot."

"The only way for me to get to the podium is to take some risks," says Benshoof, who has recorded some spectacular emergency-room quality crashes on water skis.

The 26-year-old slider from White Bear Lake, Minn., set the record of 86.6 mph on Oct. 16, in Park City, Utah, on the same track that will be used during the Winter Games.

Benshoof expects his record will fall.

"Guaranteed," he says, laughing. "We'll be running in the mid-90s unless it's snowing and the track is covered. It's a fairly easy track and pretty non-technical except for one corner. With the top sliders in the world, you'll see some phenomenal times."

U.S. luge athletes have two more World Cup and two more Challenge Cup events in Europe this month before heading to Park City for a final pre-Olympic tune-up.

Bobsled selections

Driver Brian Shimer earned a spot on his fifth Olympic squad at last weekend's U.S. bobsled trials in Park City. World Cup leader Todd Hays and Shimer finished 1-2 in the final race of the trials.

Pushers selected for the team were Garrett Hines, Randy Jones, Pavle Jovanovic, Mike Kohn, Bill Schuffenhauer, brothers Dan and Darrin Steele and Doug Sharp.

Hays, who already had qualified for the team as the overall World Cup leader, likely will drive the USA 1 sled in the Games, federation director Matt Roy said.

Shimer, 39, first made the Olympics in 1988, though as a pusher.

High-caliber spectators

The 19th Winter Olympiad doesn't accept American Express and won't allow Utahans to check their firearms at the entrances to venues.

There are 41,800 concealed-weapons permits issued in Utah, which has a population of 2.2 million, and it is not unusual to see a shoulder holster peeking out from under a jacket, even in downtown Salt Lake City.

So, three years ago, gun-rights advocates and Utah lawmakers negotiated an armistice that provided guarded gun lockers at the 10 competition sites.

The compromise was similar to one struck in August, when the Secret Service refused to allow gun-toting delegates to the Republican state convention into a hall where Vice President Dick Cheney was speaking. In that case, Utah's attorney general dipped into his campaign contributions to pay for gun lockers.

But in light of all the additional security at the Games and the expected delays at metal detectors and checkpoints, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee decided not to complicate things further with the armament equivalent of a coat-check girl.

SLOC put that in writing on Page 58 of the "Official Spectator Guide," which lists licensed firearms along with illegal drugs and fireworks as prohibited items.

Second Amendment advocates are not happy with the decision, but it appears they've been outgunned.

Any German chocolate cake?

Because the sports of luge, skeleton and bobsled have German roots, the International Olympic Committee will permit public address announcements in German at those events.

"English and French are the official languages of the IOC and the Games," USA Luge spokesman Jon Lundin said. "[But] luge is certainly a German sport."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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