U.S. women dominating Olympic hockey tuneups

ON THE OLYMPICS

Winter Olympics

January 10, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

The U.S. women's hockey team has a record this season as unblemished as the surface at the E Center, where the gold medal will be decided at the Winter Games.

The squad beat Canada, 3-2, on Tuesday in Vancouver, British Columbia, before a partisan crowd of 6,354, completing an eight-game sweep of its chief rival that began in October.

By dominating Canada, the United States has taken some of the drama out of an anticipated rematch of the gold-medal opponents in 1998 in Nagano, where Canada lost, 3-1.

Not only have the U.S. women beaten their toughest challenger, they also have bested every collegiate, amateur and foreign team on their barnstorming national tour, posting a 20-0 record.

"We're really well-balanced right now," says defenseman A. J. Mleczko, a 1998 player.

The bulk of the players are Nagano veterans, but a small group of youngsters brings new attitude and spark to the ice and new music to the locker room.

Last weekend against Canada in Detroit, attendance was 10,158, the largest turnout for a women's game in the United States.

The 20 players will be doing high-altitude training in Colorado Springs, Colo., until mid-January and will play China, an opponent in the preliminary round of Olympic competition, on Jan. 22 in San Jose, Calif.

Head first

The U.S. skeleton team has selected its members and now must wait to see if it gets the same number of Olympic racing slots.

Off their World Cup rankings, Chris Soule of Trumbull, Conn., and Jim Shea Jr. of Lake Placid, N.Y., automatically qualified. Lincoln DeWitt of Park City, Utah, beat all other sliders in team trials last week and would make the team if the United States is granted three slots.

Olympic team size is determined by a nation's ranking after the World Cup finale in St. Moritz, Switzerland, on Jan. 17. The top three nations are allowed three men and two women Olympic sliders.

The U.S. men's team stands in first place, so DeWitt's spot seems fairly safe.

The women's team is in fourth place, one point behind Switzerland, so only Tristan Gale of Salt Lake City is assured a spot. If the United States moves up in rankings, Lea Ann Parsley, a nurse and firefighter from Granville, Ohio, will become an Olympian, too.

Fans are pulling for Parsley, who was named 1999 Ohio firefighter of the year after rescuing a disabled teen and her mother from a burning mobile home.

Skeleton is making its first appearance in the Olympics since 1948. Competitors ride a small metal and plastic sled head-first down the bobsled run, their faces 2 inches from the ice, at 80 mph.

Feet first

The U.S. luge team filled its 10th and final slot last weekend, when Nick Sullivan defeated Jon Myles in a four-race slide-off in Park City, Utah.

"This was probably the most nervous I've ever been in my life," said Sullivan, of Oakdale, Minn. "I realized that if I didn't make it down cleanly, I wouldn't make the team."

His measure of victory was just .011 of a second. Luge is the only Olympic sport that measures to that tiny fraction of time. Competitors ride a small plastic and metal sled down the bobsled track feet first, approaching 90 mph.

The team is Latvia, for round six of the 2001-2002 World Cup series, which begins Jan. 19. The World Cup finale is the next weekend in Germany.

Host with the most

He put the Eccles in Rice-Eccles Stadium, the site of the opening and closing ceremonies, and now he'll govern the athletes' Olympic Village as its mayor and master host.

Spence Eccles, a philanthropist and former All-American skier, will assume his meet-and-greet ceremonial post on Jan. 29.

He got the honor by being a longtime Olympic supporter - and by donating $20 million to build and renovate facilities that will be used for the Winter Games.

Some 3,500 Olympic athletes and more than 1,000 Paralympic athletes will use the village on the campus of the University of Utah. Afterward, students will occupy the housing.

During the Games, the village will have a movie theater, flower and card shop, full-service bank and a lounge where the Village People will perform.

Winter Games president Mitt Romney also selected 29 other religious, civic and business leaders to act as hosts during the Olympics and Paralympics.

While most of those selected are little known, several have been in the celebrity spotlight: Gladys Knight (sans Pips), former Utah Jazz players Jeff Hornacek and Thurl Bailey, and former Miss America Sharlene Hawkes.

Light on

Speaking of Rice-Eccles Stadium, the seating bowl has a new feature: a $2 million Olympic caldron. The structure - a closely guarded secret for months - looks like two ribbons of glass twisted around a steel structure. Water will flow between the inner and outer glass layers, and the flame will be visible inside the caldron, as well as above the top of the 12-foot diameter bowl.

"It's a very different caldron relative to those that has been constructed in the past. It is made of glass. ... The flame is not going to be hidden," Romney told the Deseret News. "It is a beautiful piece of art."

The base contains 738 wedges of shaped glass. The caldron and its support structure stand 117 feet tall, making it visible from the downtown and the suburbs. It weighs 40,000 pounds.

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