Nevertheless, Street and others say they will simply feel more comfortable competing near home. Some, like Cheek, who lives 40 minutes from the speed skating oval, will return to their houses after daily practices and competitions during the Games. "Same relaxing drive I take every day," Cheek says. "I'll move into the athletes' village after my races so I can have the experience, but the village has athletes from different climates with illnesses I don't want to be exposed to. It has athletes not competing on a certain day who tend to blow off steam and be thoughtless of others."
Whether or not they avoid the nighttime racket at the village, American athletes will hear plenty of noise at their events—and most of it will be exuberant cheering for them from the expected 1.5 million spectators. Dominik Hasek, the goalie who backstopped the Czech Republic to a gold medal in Nagano, says the home ice in Salt Lake City will be "a big advantage for the Americans and Canadians." In artistic sports such as freestyle skiing, halfpipe snowboarding and figure skating, judges may be swayed by the roar of the fans. "You don't want to win like that," says aerial skier Emily Cook, a U.S. medal hopeful who was knocked out of the Games by foot injuries, "but sometimes in a judged sport, home athletes get gifts, scores they don't deserve."
Competing at home also has its drawbacks. "Our athletes have more people they know coming to see them than in Nagano or Sydney," says Dwight Bell, chef de mission of the U.S. delegation, "so they have more friends and family asking them for tickets, directions, where to eat, things they don't need to be worrying about." U.S. Alpine skier Erik Schlopy lives a mile from the giant slalom course in Park City but plans to stay with teammates in Sun Valley, Idaho, in the week leading up to the races. "If I stay home, I'll spend half my time on the phone thanking well-meaning people for wishing me luck when maybe I have to lie down," he says.
So how will the Americans fare? There is no Eric Heiden at these Games—short-track speed skater Apolo Ohno (page 122) is the most likely U.S. multiple medalist—and, apart from the women's hockey team, few Americans are locks for a medal. Nonetheless, seven U.S. Alpine skiers have earned top three finishes in World Cup events over the last two seasons, and Bode Miller's three World Cup slalom victories this season make him the favorite in that event. Any of the three women figure skaters (Michelle Kwan, Sarah Hughes and Sasha Cohen) might stand on the podium in Salt Lake City. Driver Todd Hays should give America its first medal in men's bobsledding since 1956, and Hakkinen and Nordic combined skier Todd Lodwick could become the first U.S. athletes to win medals in their sports since the advent of snow. Alan (Airborne) Alborn also might bring home America's first medal in ski jumping since Anders Haugen placed third in 1924.
SI's prediction: Ohno will win three medals, Miller will win two—making him only the second American male skier in history to win a pair of medals at a single Olympics—and the U.S. will finish with a record total of 22. And at closing ceremonies on Feb. 24, when the torch is passed from Salt Lake City to the next Winter host, Turin, site of the 2006 Games, a message of encouragement will be passed along too, to the Italian athletes already in training: There's no place like home.