Winter Games superstars will give Salt Lake City an international appeal
A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES
Winter Games superstars will give Salt Lake City an international appeal
In a country where broadcast ratings for hockey often rank behind stock car races, professional wrestling and monster-truck derbies, Granatos fame transcends her sport. She does TV commercials, has appeared on The Tonight Show, and has even had her picture on a box of Wheaties. The captain of the U.S. womens team is one of Americas best-known female athletes for good reason—she is a proven winner. The playmaking forward has been at the core of the national team since its inception in 1990, is its top scorer of all time, and led the U.S. to an Olympic championship in 1998. At 30, the former Concordia University Stingers star remains one of the world’s best players. She and her teammates haven’t lost a game this season, and having beaten Canada, their closest rival, eight straight times, they are the clear favourites to again bring home the gold.
United States | HOCKEY
Austria | ALPINE SKIING
The second-best skier in the world. It is a title that Eberharter is eager to shake, and this year, he finally might do it. The silver medallist in the giant slalom at Nagano in 1998, behind countryman Hermann Maier, Eberharter is enjoying his best World Cup season since he came onto the scene in 1991. Truth be told, that’s mostly because No. 1-ranked Maier, the so-called “Hermannator,” broke his leg in an August motorcycle accident. Nonetheless, an Olympic gold would be sweet for the 32year-old Eberharter, a heavy-metal fan and amateur guitarist. It might even make those clogs that he sells on his Web site (www.steff.at) more popular.
Great Britain | WOMEN’S SKELETON
Hurtling head-first down an icy mountain on a plank and a couple of runners at speeds of more than 120 kph is not everyone’s idea of a good time. But Coomber is not everyone. The 27-year-old Oxford grad, an intelligence officer in Britain’s Royal Air Force, took her first skeleton slide in November, 1997. Eleven days
later she placed fifth in a World Cup race. Coomber, who is on an 18-month sabbatical from the military, is now the reigning world champion, having won seven of the 10 World Cup races contested over the past two seasons. She will compete with just 17 other athletes for the first-ever gold medal in women’s skeleton (the men’s
version of the event, which returns to the Olympics this year, was a medal sport in 1928 and 1948.)
Sweden | CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING
Cross-country skiers are, by definition, fitness fanatics. Then there’s Elofsson,
who trains by roller-skiing up mountains and running through muddy swamps. He is so finely-tuned that he makes the rest of the field look like chain-smoking doughnut store habituées. Unbelievably strong over short and long distances in both the classical and freestyle skiing techniques, the 24-year-old dominated the circuit last season, winning the overall World Cup despite competing in just 10 of the 20 races. He won six of them and placed second in another; no one else won more than three. This year he’s on top again and has an outside chance at winning as many as five medals in Salt Lake (15-km classical, 50-km classical, 30-km freestyle, 10km pursuit and the 4xl0-km relay.) Bjorn Daehlie, the Norwegian powerhouse, won three gold medals and a silver in Nagano.
Germany | SPEED SKATING
Most Canadians know all too well the burning sensation that settles into your legs after a couple of quick turns around the rink. Friesinger, speed skatings reigning distance queen, powers around the Olympic oval a dozen times and seems ready for more. The 25-year-old won the first seven races of the 2001-2002 World Cup season, leaving her rivals in the dust over 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 metres. The Salt Lake favourite in all three distances, Friesinger has speed skating in her genes. Her parents competed internationally in the early 1970s, and her younger brother and sister are up-and-coming skaters, too. A quick search of the Internet, however, reveals one of the reasons for Friesinger’s growing popularity back home: dozens of fan sites showcasing risqué photos from a sports magazine highlighting her tummy tattoo and pierced navel.
United States | BOBSLEIGH
A made-for-TV movie just waiting for a happy ending. Hays, the best U.S. hope for a medal in bobsledding since 1956, is one of the quirkier stories of these Winter Games. A native of tiny Del Rio, Tex., a town near the Mexican border, Hays was a star high-school quarterback with big aspirations. In 1991, he captained the University of Tulsa to a victory in the Freedom Bowl, but his pro hopes were dashed when he failed to catch on with the Toronto Argonauts. Hays turned his energy to his other passion—martial arts—
winning a national kickboxing title before trying out for the U.S. bobsleigh team on a whim.
He raised US$10,000 to fund his first sled by competing in an ultimate fighting event in Japan.
After several disappointing seasons, Hays, 32, and his crews have found their stride just in time for Salt Lake, putting them at the top of the two-man and four-man World Cup standings.
United States | FIGURE SKATING
By far the worlds best female skater over the last four years, Kwan has looked uncharacteristically erratic of late. The 1998 silver medallist surprised everyone last fall by firing long-time coach Frank Carroll and announcing she would coach herself. She then turned in several dismal pre-Games performances, including a loss to Russian rival Irina Slutskaya at the Grand Prix final in Kitchener, Ont., last December. But Kwan rebounded brilliantly to win the U.S. title last month, while Slutskaya looked shaky in a loss to countrywoman Maria Butyrskaya at the European finals. Advantage Kwan.
Poland I SKI JUMPING
When Malysz struggled in his first couple of seasons on the world ski-jumping circuit, his wife had to talk him out of giving up and returning to his job as a roofer. Today, there is no doubt that Mrs. Malysz is a wise woman. Since 1998, when he didn’t break the top 50 at Nagano, the Polish high-flyer has emerged as his sport’s dominant performer. Last season he won 11 World Cup competitions, including the Four Hills Tournament, dubbed the Super Bowl of ski jumping. This season, he is again at the top of the heap. Malysz credits his trainer and two University of Cracow professors—one a sports psychologist, the other a bio-mechanics expert—
for his remarkable turnaround. In Poland, the 24year-old is a national hero and has been immortalized in a sculpture made from 300 kg of white chocolate.
Sweden | ALPINE SKIING
A medal threat at just 20, Sweden’s Päerson is burnishing the legend of her hometown, the tiny mountain village of Tärnaby. The community of 900 has already produced one of the most dominant downhillers of all time, Ingemar Stenmark, winner of two gold medals at Lake Placid in 1980 and 86 World Cup races over his 16-year career. Päerson has four slalom victories so far this year, and two top5 finishes in the giant slalom, giving her a narrow lead over Michaela Dorfmeister of Austria in the overall World Cup standings. Päerson, who was the world junior slalom champion in 1998, has spent the last three years honing her technique, and even if she fails to reach the top of the podium in Salt Lake, she seems destined to leave her mark on the sport in coming years.
South Korea | SHORTTRACK SPEED SKATING
The gold medallist in the 1,000 metres at Nagano, Kim appears ready to defend his crown in Salt Lake. Kim, who will celebrate his 22nd birthday the day after the opening ceremonies, seems to have regained his form this year after a disappointing 2000-2001 season when he finished 10th in the world. Overall victor in this year’s short track World Cup (as he was in 1999-2000), Kim is hard to beat when he’s motivated and in his groove. As a 17-year-old in 1997, Kim won the World Cup overall title and later the Olympics despite the tragic death of his father from a heart attack as he watched his son compete at the South Korean championships. Jonathon Gatehouse
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