With the 2002 Games approaching, here's what to expect—from skaters to skeletons
The opening ceremonies of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics are three months away. With those Games promising new sports, new stars and new concerns—and with World Cup events and team trials looming—it seems a good time to take a look into a snowy crystal ball for answers to a few key questions.
Does U.S. skating have Kwantity and quality?
This year's group of U.S. women's figure skaters sure does. Only three from the superb quartet of Michelle Kwan, Sarah Hughes, Sasha Cohen and Angela Nikodinov will make the U.S. team, which will be chosen following the national championships in Los Angeles from Jan. 6 through 13. Whichever three make the squad, look for two to join Russia's Irina Slutskaya on the medal stand in Salt Lake City. Kwan, 21, has four world titles to go with the Olympic silver she won in Nagano in 1998. She's a polished artist and the sentimental favorite. Though she lacks a signature trick, she rarely beats herself. The 16-year-old Hughes has matured, shedding some of her on-ice giddiness to earn a world bronze last March. She also has a seeming immunity to pressure. Cohen, 17, the 2000 U.S. silver medalist, has recovered from the fractured vertebra that sidelined her last season and is working on a quadruple Salchow that could tip the technical marks in her favor. Nikodinov, 21, is perhaps the world's best spinner but is also a nervous competitor.
Should we believe in miracles?
With Herb Brooks back as coach, will the U.S. men's hockey team inspire the nation, as the 1980 squad did with its upset gold medal in Lake Placid? Not likely. Will the players embarrass the nation by throwing fits and furniture in the athletes' village, as they did in Nagano? Also not likely in these sober times. With NHLers Tony Amonte, Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk and Doug Weight, this squad has as skilled a collection of forwards as any at the Games. Look past Brian Leetch, however, and the defense is thin. The team must also choose a starting goalie who either lacks experience ( Brent Johnson, Mike Dunham or Damian Rhodes) or has declining skills and creaky knees ( Mike Richter). U.S. gold medal hopes in hockey rest with the women, the '98 champs, who are bound for another finals showdown against Canada.
What will be the coolest new sport?
It's not exactly new, but the skeleton event returns to the Games after a 54-year absence. Think of it as full-frontal luge. Sliders face forward on their sleds, their chins inches from the ice as they career down the run at speeds of up to 80 mph. Provided they survive, the U.S. men are capable of a sweep. Lincoln DeWitt, a 34-year-old self-proclaimed computer nerd, was the 2000-01 World Cup champion. Jim Shea Jr., 33, the 1999 world champ and grandson of speed skating great Jack Shea, would be a third-generation Olympian. Chris Soule, 28, a world bronze medalist in '97, is a stuntman and actor who appeared in G.I. Jane and Sex and the City.
What's the word on the Street?
Saying the honor "would be a cherry on top of a really amazing career" Picabo Street, still the most recognizable U.S. face and name on the slopes, has campaigned to carry the American flag at the opening ceremonies. First, though, Street, 30, must make the team. On Jan. 28, U.S. coaches will name their squads, based largely on showings in this season's World Cup races. In 1998, a month after winning the Super G event at the Nagano Games, Street suffered multiple fractures of her left femur and tore the ACL in her right knee in a horrific fall at the World Cup finals in Crans-Montana, Switzerland. She has done little since, missing two full seasons, performing poorly in Europe last season and winning some Nor-Am regional races against lesser competition in North America.