time not so long ago when the U.S. was a Winter Olympics also-ran. It produced
sublime figure skaters and the occasional Eric Heiden or Bonnie Blair, and
pulled off hockey miracles every now and again, but it generally ended up well
down in the medal standings. � Then came Salt Lake City. The combination of the
home-country advantage, a wellspring of Sun Belt talent and strength in newer
sports like snowboarding and skeleton lifted Team USA to 34 medals, by far its
most ever. The U.S. finished second in the medal count, two behind Germany.
Suddenly 2006--and the Turin Olympics--couldn't come soon enough. � The
excellence of the 215-member team the U.S. is sending to these Games
underscores an old truth: Success begets success. In 2002 inline skater Chad
Hedrick (a Texan) watched on TV as speedskater Derek Parra (a Californian) won
two medals; Hedrick switched sports and is now a world-record holder who'll
race in five events in Turin. Parra will be there too, along with most of the
other '02 U.S. medalists. The '06 team has all the wonderful stories of its
predecessors--the pizzeria owner who captains the curling team, the twin-sister
biathletes, the women's hockey goalie battling epilepsy--but it also carries a
new burden: expectations. So goodbye, Utah. This time the show's on the
(figure skating), 16. The high school junior is 5 1/2 months younger than the
U.S. team's youngest male, ski jumper Anders Johnson, also 16, who's America's
youngest Nordic skiing Olympian ever.
(curling), 54. The Bemidji, Minn., native is an insurance agent. Runner-up:
Chris Chelios (hockey), 44.
Rena Inoue (figure
skating), 4'11". Born in Japan, Inoue (in-KNOW-we) became a U.S. citizen in
(hockey), 6'5". Hatcher and his older brother, Kevin, also a defenseman,
both played on the '98 Olympic team.