Arrivederci, Torino

Closing captures spirit of Games

In end, U.S. triumphs outshine distractions and disappointments

Turin Olympics

Winter Olympics

February 27, 2006|By RICK MAESE | RICK MAESE,SUN COLUMNIST

TURIN, Italy -- Americans will remember these Olympics for the disappointments and the distractions. But history will show something much different.

For just a couple of minutes, forget Bode Miller, the much-hyped alpine skier who was 0-for-5 at the Winter Games. And try not to think about Michelle Kwan, who barely cleared customs in Italy before returning to the United States. The flamboyant male figure skater, the hot-dogging snowboarder, the California ice princess who fell twice - forget them all. The past 16 days were about so much more.

Short-term memory will focus on the losses. But the history books will reflect the Americans' success at the Winter Games. Altogether, the 211 athletes from the United States brought home 25 medals, more than any other country except Germany. It also marked the most medals the Americans have won at any Winter Olympics staged on foreign soil.

Expectations were slightly higher for this year's Winter Games. In Salt Lake City four years ago, the Americans managed to win a U.S.-record 34 medals. This time around, bolstered by snowboarders and speed skaters, the United States won nine golds, nine silvers and seven bronze medals.

Last night, it all officially came to a close. It started 2 1/2 weeks ago with the reverence of a ballet. It ended late last night in the carefree spirit of a great party.

"It's been like one perfect dream after another," said Joey Cheek, the speed skater who carried the flag last night for the United States and leaves with gold and silver medals. "Every time I think I'll get a chance to slow down and relax and enjoy it, another new great thing hits. ... It's a little overwhelming."

For a few short hours, the closing ceremony made you forget about Kwan's injury, Sasha Cohen's falls and even Apolo Ohno's inspirational gold medal. Last night, Turin celebrated winners, losers, volunteers and spectators.

"You have succeeded brilliantly in meeting your challenge," International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said. "These were truly magnificent Games."

Unlike in the opening ceremony, athletes from different countries entered the stadium together last night.

"At the opening ceremonies, we marched out as Team USA, and everyone else out there was our competitor," said Shawn Rojeski, part of the bronze medal-winning curling team. "This time, they had us march out together to show unity. We're more or less one big family now."

Despite some of the American antics - an aerial skier booted from Italy for a drunken fight, reports of Miller's drinking before a skiing event, the struggles of the hockey teams and all the drama surrounding the figure skaters - the night's theme was not modeled after the United States. Last night was truly a Carnevale, featuring clowns, fireworks and confetti. Even some of the athletes wore red noses as they paraded into the stadium in front of 35,000 cheering fans.

"It was really awesome to walk in," said Cohen, who won silver last week in the women's figure skating competition. "It had great entertainment, and I had a wonderful time."

Before it was all over, the spotlight shifted from Italy to Canada. Vancouver, British Columbia, will serve as host to the Winter Games in 2010. At last night's ceremony, the Canadian flag was raised into the air, and "O Canada" was performed by opera star Ben Hepp- ner. The Olympic flag was passed from Turin Mayor Sergio Chiamparino to Rogge and then to Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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