U.S. bobsled chances sink with drug ruling


Jovanovic's ouster deals 4-man sled heaviest hit


January 31, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Now that bickering bobsledders and sullen speed skaters have finished protesting each other, it's time to focus on that other Olympic moment, the drug suspension.

U.S. hopes to take the gold medal in the four-man bobsled were knocked off track this week when brakeman Pavle Jovanovic was disqualified from the games after he tested positive for a muscle-building steroid.

Todd Hays, the driver of both the two- and four-man sleds, says the loss of Jovanovic on the larger sled will be "devastating."

Though backup brakeman Garrett Hines is a proven performer on the two-man sled, the four-man substitute, Billy Schuffenhauer, is largely untested.

Jovanovic was tested Dec. 29 after winning the U.S. team trials, a race the Hays-led team didn't have to compete in because of its World Cup ranking. All of the other team members tested negative.

The nine-month suspension imposed an arbitration panel also cost Hays the World Cup gold medal won three weeks ago in Switzerland and dropped his world ranking from third to 10th.

Jovanovic has appealed the decision, saying he took a contaminated dietary supplement. A hearing before an international panel of arbitrators is scheduled for next Wednesday, two days before the start of the Games.

Adam Driggs, Jovanovic's lawyer, said his client took the supplement the morning before the race.

"It's something he's been taking for a long time. It was just bad timing," Driggs said.

Both the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which now handles the testing of all American athletes, issued advisories last year cautioning against the use of supplements because of potential contamination or mislabeling.

On Jan. 9, the International Bobsled Federation suspended a Latvian bobsledder, Sandis Prusis, from the World Cup circuit and the Olympics.

Prusis, who tested positive in November, was given a three-month retroactive suspension that expires the day after the games start.

The two-man bobsled competition will be held Feb. 16 and 17, the four-man Feb. 22 and 23.

The United States hasn't won a medal in bobsled in 46 years.

Right behind you

If momentum means anything, German luge legend Georg Hackl and the fastest slider in the world, American Tony Benshoof, have the edge going into the games.

Hackl, who is trying to become the first winter Olympian to win four consecutive gold medals, won the final men's singles race of the World Cup circuit in Winterberg, Germany. He took four of the seven singles races during the season.

Benshoof won his first career World Cup medal with a second-place finish. The Minnesota native, who set the speed record in Park City last fall at 86.6 mph, says the silver medal is a confidence booster as he readies for his first Winter Games.

The World Cup title went to Hackl's longtime rival, Austria's Markus Prock.

Good seats

Although he wasn't introduced by President Bush during his State of the Union speech Tuesday, U.S. skeleton team member Jim Shea Jr. was a guest of the Commander in Chief and sat in the presidential box with First Lady Laura Bush.

Mitt Romney, the head of the Salt Lake Games, also was in attendance.

Shea, a third-generation Olympian, is viewed as a favorite in skeleton, making its return to the Olympics after a 54-year absence. Competitors lie face down on fiberglass sleds - their chins just inches above the ice - as they hurtle down a mile-long, ice-covered chute.

His father, Jim Shea Sr., competed in three cross-country skiing events in the 1964 Innsbruck Olympics. His grandfather, Jack Shea, won two gold medals in speed skating the first time the Winter Games were held in this country, in 1932 in the family's hometown of Lake Placid, N.Y.

Jack Shea was killed last week near his home, when an apparent drunk driver slammed head-on into his car.

Give them credit

If they'd been watching American television, Russian officials and sponsors would have known about the importance of having a visa card. That's with a small "v."

A spokesman for the Russian Olympic Committee said dozens of visa applicants, including former Olympic champions, are being forced to submit to interviews at the U.S. embassy in Moscow and might be prevented from traveling to Salt Lake City.

Most notable on the list are six-time gold medalist Lidiya Skoblikova and Vyacheslav Vedenin, a cross-country skier who holds two gold medals. The difficulties also extended to a member of the IOC, Russian tennis chief Shamil Tarpishchev.

"It's hard to believe, but embassy officials have even challenged the trips of such famous sportsmen and sportswomen as Skoblikova and Vedenin," said spokesman Alexander Ratner.

It's possible that, without diplomatic American express treatment, the dignitaries and business leaders will be forced to watch the games on television, where they will no doubt learn that the "Big V," Visa, is a games sponsor.

Safety first

One of the first protests of the games wasn't about the treatment of animals or world trade. It was about the free distribution of 12,000 condoms to athletes at the Olympic Village.

Generation Life, an Idaho-based group of students and musicians, staged a mini-protest Tuesday, but vowed to have a daily presence once the games begin.

Spokeswoman Brandi Swindell says condoms weren't handed out at first aid stations in Nagano in 1998 and shouldn't be distributed now. She said the practice only condones promiscuity.

At the Summer Games in Sydney in 2000, athletes drained stockpiles not because of the level of sexual activity in the village, but because high-quality condoms are difficult to get in some countries.

Salt Lake Organizing Committee spokeswoman Caroline Shaw says though the International Olympic Committee doesn't insist on free condoms, "we consider it good public health practice."

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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