Spare Us, Please
Can an ardent kegling contingent bowl over the IOC?
Two mornings ago Jerry Koenig, president of the International Bowling Federation, strode into the lobby of Salt Lake City's downtown Hilton wearing a bright yellow sweater and fresh off an interview with a Toledo radio station. "There are a lot of bowlers in Toledo," he said, beaming. "They want to know when we're getting in."
The IBF has been petitioning to get bowling into the Summer Games ever since 1979, when the IOC recognized the organization as a governing body. This is the fourth straight Games at which Koenig has been trying to persuade IOC members to give new meaning to the term Olympic pins. "The best strategy is to go to where the IOC meetings are and ride up and down in the elevators until you catch somebody," he says.
Koenig, 62, has what you might call a bowler's frame -- big, rounded shoulders, beer-barrel torso, meaty limbs. He carries around a folder full of statistics that show bowling's huge popularity in Asia and the fact that nearly half of the globe's 150 million keglers are women. At the Nagano Games, Koenig rolled a few games with then IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch. "I probably shouldn't say this," Koenig says, lowering his voice, "but Mr. Samaranch only bowls about a 120."
Koenig, a lawyer who broke into the bowling racket as a pin boy in the 1950s, hopes that the IOC will vote on bowling's status later this year. While the glutted summer schedule -- not to mention the two-toned shoes -- hurts bowling's chances, Koenig is convinced that the Olympics have room to spare. "It's a grueling sport," says Koenig. "I'd like to see these athletes try to bowl 48 games in three days like we do at nationals. Bowling is a test of wills. It comes down to whoever can pull it out of his gut at the end."
Fanning the Flames
As the 1999 Ohio Firefighter of the Year -- an honor she received for rescuing a woman and her 14-year-old disabled daughter from their burning home in the town of Hanover -- Lea Ann Parsley knows danger. That's why sliding headfirst on a skeleton track at 75 mph doesn't faze her. "You have no clue what you're up against when you're fighting fires," says Parsley, who slid to the silver medal yesterday -- behind surprise winner and teammate Tristan Gale -- in the Olympic debut of women's skeleton. "Compared to that, I don't consider skeleton to be dangerous."
Parsley, 33, joined the Granville volunteer fire squad when she was 16. At opening ceremonies she represented not only her fellow athletes and firefighting brethren but also her family when she was one of eight who carried in the tattered World Trade Center flag. "My sister-in-law lost her nephew [on Sept. 11]," she says. "To reach out and touch that flag on her behalf was a special honor."
The Young Headliners
Speaking to the world press on Tuesday, Canada forward Cherie Piper tossed out her hockey team's remaining trump card against its gold medal rivals. "The pressure," said Piper, "is all on the U.S."
Forgive the Americans for not quaking in their skates. With a 4-0 semifinal victory over Sweden that evening, the U.S. stretched its winning streak to 35 games since August. In four Olympic games, the U.S. has scored 31 goals and yielded one. To stand a chance, "Canada will have to perform much better than they did [against us]," said Jouko Lukkarila, coach of Team Finland, which on Tuesday gave the Canadians a scare before losing 7-3. "The U.S. can use any one of their players in any situation."
While team elder Cammi Granato may still be the linchpin, the play of the team's six rookies isn't giving much hope to the rest of the world. Headlining this group is 18-year-old forward Natalie Darwitz, who leads the tournament with seven goals. When asked about the pressure she must certainly be feeling, an unfazed Darwitz, who scored a state-record 312 goals before her senior season for Eagan (Minn.) High, said, "I'm going to think of the gold medal match as a pond hockey game, and go all-out." U.S. opponents, meanwhile, weep for the future.
One of the cooler heads in Salt Lake City this week belongs to Rhona Martin, the 35-year-old Scottish housewife who will captain the upstart British squad in this afternoon's women's curling final against Switzerland. She and her teammates beat Sweden and Germany in tiebreakers on Tuesday, then shocked world and Olympic champion Canada 6-5 in yesterday's semifinal. "We weren't nervous," Martin said. "It doesn't matter if it's an Olympic semifinal or a club game back home."
Back home for Martin is the tiny town of Dunlop (pop. 807), 30 minutes from Glasgow. Though Scotland is curling's ancestral home, Canada is its most successful suburb, and no less an authority than the BBC has already hailed yesterday's victory as "the greatest win in British curling history." Martin and her mates may not have shaken the world, but they at least cracked their sport's ice ceiling. "I'm just a quiet country housewife," she says. "It's nice attention, but we're trying to ignore what's being said back home."