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Ready for Takeoff
Brian Cazeneuve
February 06, 2006
Four years after the best American showing ever at the Winter Games, a U.S. team rich in talent and personality will try to fly even higher
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February 06, 2006

Ready For Takeoff

Four years after the best American showing ever at the Winter Games, a U.S. team rich in talent and personality will try to fly even higher

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There was�a 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 road.

YOUNGEST

Kimmie Meissner (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.

OLDEST

Scott Baird (curling), 54. The Bemidji, Minn., native is an insurance agent. Runner-up: Chris Chelios (hockey), 44.

SHORTEST

Rena Inoue (figure skating), 4'11". Born in Japan, Inoue (in-KNOW-we) became a U.S. citizen in September.

TALLEST

Derian Hatcher (hockey), 6'5". Hatcher and his older brother, Kevin, also a defenseman, both played on the '98 Olympic team.

MOST VERSATILE

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