Athletes To Watch Today

Winter Olympics

February 11, 2006

BIATHLON

OLE EINAR BJOERNDALEN

TV: USA; 7 a.m.-9 a.m.

Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen could make history more than once in Turin - by becoming the Winter Olympian with the most gold medals in history and by becoming the first athlete to win a gold medal in both biathlon and cross-country skiing. According to The Complete Book of the Winter Olympics, Bjoerndalen, 32, credits his success to a mental coach named Oynvid Hammer, who also is a vacuum cleaner salesman. They began working together in 1997 after Bjoerndalen bought a $3,500 vacuum cleaner. One year later, in Nagano, Japan, Bjoerndalen won his first gold medal. In 2002 in Salt Lake City, he won all four biathlon races but was disappointed because Norwegian cross-country coaches did not allow him to compete in one of that sport's relay races. He might not leave Turin disappointed. He is favored again in four biathlon races.

Randy Harvey

Speed skating

CHAD HEDRICK

TV: Chs. 11, 4; 8 p.m.-11:30 p.m.

Chad Hedrick is so well known for his partying that he is called the Paris Hilton of speed skating. After the Winter Olympics, he could be known as the new Eric Heiden. Hedrick, a former in-line skater from Houston, was inspired to pursue speed skating seriously while watching the Winter Olympics in 2002 from a blackjack table in Las Vegas. Now, he could become the first speed skater since Heiden in 1980 to win five gold medals in a single Olympics. Hedrick's quest begins today with his best event, the 5,000 meters. He's also favored in the 10,000. But, unlike Heiden, who won every distance from the 500 to the 10,000, Hedrick is not as dominant in the shorter races. It will be a surprise if he wins the 1,000 and the 1,500. He is not entered in the 500. His fifth event is a team pursuit, an event that wasn't included in 1980 or else Heiden might have won six gold medals.

Randy Harvey

Freestyle skiing

HANNAH KEARNEY

TV: Chs. 11, 4; 8 p.m.-11:30 p.m.

When Hannah Kearney lifts in the air, all across the mountain jaws drop and eyes open. All except for her own. The 19-year-old freestyle skier has the quirky habit of hitting jumps and tightly shutting her eyes. Rooted in a childhood fear, Kearney usually opens them just before she lands. At this year's Winter Games, just try to shut your eyes as Kearney attacks the moguls. The Vermont native is appearing in her first Olympics after winning the U.S. trials on Dec. 30 by landing a heli-X - crossing skis while spinning 360 degrees - on the top jump and a back flip on the bottom. She also won the 2005 World Championships. "It would be sort of a lie if I said I didn't expect to do well," she said last week. "I'm here to do well. I'm not here to lose." Kearney is easy to recognize on the mountain. Her blond hair sprouts from either side of her helmet, decorated with flowers.

Rick Maese

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