Lowdown on hopes for Turin

Olympics

February 10, 2005|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

A sport-by-sport outlook for the Turin Games:

Biathlon: The U.S. squad has never won an Olympic medal in this sport, not even finishing in the top 10. Breaking into the upper echelon might be the best the team can hope for. The men's side has two Salt Lake City veterans in Jay Hakkinen, who has qualified for the 2006 Games, and Jeremy Teela. A fellow Alaskan, Rachel Steer, is likely to join them in Turin.

Bobsled: At least fans won't have to watch Prince Albert in a can. The prince - driver and the bankroll behind Monaco's sled - retired after crossing the finish line in 2002 on his head. American women won the gold three years ago in the inaugural event and are likely to do so again. Jean Racine, perhaps the best pure driver on the circuit, is now paired with Vonetta Flowers, the first African-American to win a Winter Games gold medal. Flowers' former partner, driver Jill Bakken, is trying out brakemen as she looks for a winning formula. The men's picture became a little less settled when a bobsled runner sliced silver medalist Todd Hayes' right foot during competition last month, requiring surgery. If he mends, Hayes should be propelled to the podium by teammates Pavle Jovanovic, Bill Schuffenhauer and Steve Mesler.

Curling: Hard to believe, but this will be only the third Olympics for this sport. U.S. men have been unable to sweep their way past the big three of Norway, Canada and Switzerland. The women moved up from a fifth-place finish in Nagano to fourth in Salt Lake City. If either squad is going to get to the podium, bet on the women, led by Debbie McCormick, a two-time Olympian and winner of the 2003 world championship.

Figure skating: After winning silver in 1998 and bronze in 2002, Michelle Kwan has a last chance to grab the gold - if she decides to compete. But there appear to be better, stronger skaters out there, led by 2002 silver medalist Irina Slutskaya of Russia and Japan's Shizuka Arakawa and Miki Ando. Kwan also would have to adapt to the new scoring system that replaces the century-old 6.0 standard. On the men's side, it's Evgeni Plushenko's to lose. The Russian, who earned the silver medal in 2002, won the Grand Prix final in December and his fourth men's title at the European championships last month. Although his performance lacked spark at the end of a long season, Plushenko still had enough in his tank to impress the European judges. That should be plenty to hold off two-time U.S. champion Johnny Weir and 2002 bronze medalist Timothy "Quad King" Goebel.

Hockey: Oh, Canada, you won both gold medals in Salt Lake City and should do it again over the U.S. men's and women's squads. The NHL strike has scattered players to Europe and minor league teams, making it hard to organize and assess talent. The U.S. women remain far better than the next two teams - Sweden and Finland - but can't seem to solve the neighbor to the north and their goalie, Charline Labonte, who seals the net better than a Tupperware lid.

Luge: This will be the changing of the guard, literally and figuratively, for the men, with George Hackl, the most decorated man in luge, giving way to countryman David Moeller, a German border guard. Italy's Armin Zoeggler, who already has one medal of each color, has a chance at his fourth, especially because he'll be competing on his home track. Tony Benshoof could have a podium finish, which would be a first for U.S. men. On the women's side, Germany's one-two punch of Silke Kraushaar and Sylke Otto will be broken up by crowd favorite Barbara Niedernhuber of - where else - Germany. In doubles, U.S. sliders Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin, winners of the 2002 silver and 1998 bronze medals, will again be in the hunt with Italy, Austria and Germany.

Skeleton: Jim Shea Jr. and Tristan Gale have not resembled the U.S. sliders who won gold in Salt Lake City. Still, the Americans should do well, with Olympic veteran Chris Soule and Pennsylvania's Eric Bernotas for the men and newcomer Noelle Pikus-Pace joining either Gale or silver medalist Lea Ann Parsley on the women's side.

Skiing: Although the season won't end until March 13, it's hard to picture the men's Alpine podium next year without American Bode Miller. Unless, of course, the go-for-broke speed demon has skied out of the frame. When he's good, Bode's da bomb. When he's bad, he just bombs. He'll battle Austrians Michael Walchhofer and Hermann Maier and teammate and fellow Olympian Daron Rahlves. On the women's side, all the fairy dust was on Lindsey Kildow's shoulders until she finished ninth in the super G at the world championships in Bormio, Italy. But she has Olympic experience, as does Julia Mancuso. Jeremy Bloom is the moguls maven, with wins in his last four World Cup events. Shannon Bahrke, the 2002 silver medalist and 2003 World Cup moguls champion, should be recovered from a knee injury in time.

Ski jumping: With his bronze medal in 1924, Anders Haugen is America's most decorated Olympic ski jumper. The Colorado Ski Hall of Famer's standing won't be in jeopardy next year. Women aren't welcomed in ski jumping, the only Winter Games sport without them.

Speed skating: Bobsledder Flowers was the first African-American to win a gold medal at the Winter Games; Shani Davis could be the second. Davis, winner of the 2005 world all-around championships, hopes to compete in both short track and long track in Turin. He made the 2002 U.S. team as a short-track skater, but it's in long-track where the 1,500-meter world-record holder is likely to make his mark. Even if he doesn't make it in short track, the Americans still have Apolo Anton Ohno.

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