Bird flu doesn't prompt action

Winter Olympics

February 13, 2006

No specific precautions against the bird flu virus are being taken at the Winter Olympics after a strain of the virus was detected in the south of Italy.

Games organizers said yesterday they would follow the lead of regional health authorities in Piedmont, where the Games are being held.

"It's up to them to decide if any precautionary measures must be put in place," said Giuseppe Gattino, spokesman for the Torino Organizing Committee. "They will let us know if they want us to give specific information to the athletes. At the moment, there are no cases in Piedmont."

Italy's Health Ministry announced Saturday that the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus was detected in the three southern Italian regions of Puglia, Calabria and Sicily. The areas are more than 600 miles from Turin.

The outbreak was said to pose no immediate threat to humans because only wild birds had been infected.

Bird flu has killed at least 88 people in Asia and Turkey since 2003, according to the World Health Organization's most recent update.

Dog credential -- U.S. ski racer Daron Rahlves has brought his dog Chevy to the Olympics. What's so special about that? According to U.S. ski team spokesman Marc Habermann, Chevy has been issued an Olympic credential complete with the dog's picture. Habermann says the Siberian husky is required to go through security but has privileges reporters don't have. "That dog can go places you can't," Habermann told reporters before yesterday's downhill race.

Tickets -- The organizing committee said it has reached its ticket revenue target of $76 million after selling 766,000 of 1 million available tickets. Sales picked up after Friday's opening ceremony and during the weekend the Games' ticket Web site was frequently inaccessible due to high traffic. The last-minute surge followed weeks of media coverage of Italians' lackluster response to the Games. Although tickets remain available for every sport, locals are flocking even to events they aren't familiar with, Gattino said. Gattino said about 55,000 people attended the first day of competition Saturday, while Friday's opening ceremony broke the earnings record for a sports event in Italy, taking in nearly $16 million.

Suspension -- The president of Germany's Olympic committee, unhappy over a five-day suspension of one of his country's top cross-country skiers, wants to organize a medical conference to look into hemoglobin levels in competitors' blood. Dr. Klaus Steinbach said his committee would set in motion plans for an international conference of leading hematologists. The move follows the five-day suspension given Thursday to 2002 cross-country gold medalist Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle after a blood test showed her hemoglobin to be above permitted levels.

Luge -- Anne Abernathy, the 52-year-old slider known as "Grandma Luge," was injured during a crash in practice. Abernathy was taken to a hospital with an unspecified arm injury. Olympic officials said they did not know the extent of her injury or whether Abernathy, who is competing in her sixth Olympics, will be able to participate in the Games. The first two runs of women's luge are scheduled for today. Abernathy made her Olympic debut for the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1988 at Calgary. Although she has never been a serious medal threat, Abernathy, a cancer survivor, is popular with the sport's fans and her fellow athletes.

Opening ceremony -- Nine-year-old Eleonora Benetti's a capella rendition of the Italian national anthem at Friday's opening ceremony was moving and heartfelt. It was not, however, live. Officials confirmed reports yesterday that Eleonora was lip-syncing when she sang an unusual unaccompanied version of the anthem in front of 35,000 at Olympic Stadium.

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