Originally created 01/03/06

Italy's ski team knows it's good to be home



BORMIO, Italy - The Italian ski team is taking advantage of its home Olympics with access to the courses in Sestriere and San Sicario.

The entire men's and women's teams have trained on the various courses the past few weeks.

Giorgio Rocca, who has won each of the three World Cup slalom races this season, had workers arrange the direction to his liking for a few of the lights on the slalom course. Rocca is partially color blind and the slalom race at the Olympics will be held at night.

The "Azzurri" speed teams had four days of training last week. Kristian Ghedina, Italy's top downhiller, acknowledges that the Sestriere course does not suit his style.

"But after three days of downhill training and one day of super-G, I feel a little better about it," Ghedina said.

Austrian media director Robert Brunner said his team had no plans to train on the Olympic hills before the games, adding "it's supposed to be equal for everyone."

The Americans also have no advance training plans.

"I'd like to but there's no way we'll pull that off," star skier Daron Rahlves said. "We don't have time and we don't have that support. They're going to make sure it's exclusive for them to ski on it for home advantage.

"It's nice for them, it's funny how we don't even get training on our own hills," Rahlves added. "We can never seem to pull it off for World Cup or when we have the Olympics. It's nice to see other nations supporting their skiers in that manner."

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RUSSIAN MEDALS: Russia has big hopes for Turin.

Leonid Tyagachev, the Russian Olympic Committee chief, says the country is aiming for at least 25 medals, including seven golds, at the Winter Games, the daily Gazeta reported Wednesday.

Sports Minister Vyacheslav Fetisov, the former NHL star, said Russia's best chances are in skiing - where's Russia's Nordic team is strong - biathlon and figure skating, the newspaper reported.

At the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, Russia won 13 medals, including five golds, good for fifth place in the medals standings behind Norway, Germany, the United States and Canada.

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PLACE YOUR BETS: Ready to put down some euros on the giant slalom? No problem. Betting will be available on ski races at the Turin Olympics.

Italy's state agency overseeing betting has introduced Big Race Sci in time for the Winter Games.

It's the first time bets will be made on ski races in Italy, said Maurizio Cimarelli of the agency. Bettors may be placed at any of the 22,000 licensed parlors in Italy, including the thousands of bars on virtually every street corner in Italy.

Betting will be open to anyone over 18, foreigners included.

"Even Martians," Cimarelli said. "It's just the same as a foreigner buying a pack of cigarettes in Italy."

Gian Franco Kasper, president of the International Ski Federation and a member of the International Olympic Committee, has no problem with the initiative.

"It depends on the law in the host country," he said. "We have an internal agreement in place that none of our athletes or coaches can take part."

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HOCKEY ACCENTS: Italy's hockey team for the Turin Games will have a heavy Canadian accent - and one American-born player.

Illinois-born defenseman Bob Nardella and nine Canadian-born players are on coach Mickey Goulet's 23-man roster. Italy is the only of the 12 teams without an NHL player. Italian squads Milan, Asiago and Bolzano are represented by five players each.

The team's goal is to reach the quarterfinals by placing fourth in its six-team group. With defending champion Canada, the Czech Republic and Finland considered beyond reach, that means a likely battle with Switzerland and Germany.

The captain is 35-year-old forward Joe Busillo of Toronto, who stars with the Milan Vipers.

Italian-born Lucio Topatigh, at 40 still the biggest name in Italian hockey, made his fourth Olympic team.

Nardella, who will turn 38 10 days before the games, returns to the team after an eight-year absence. He plays for the Rockford IceHogs in the UHL.

"He's the type of player our defense needs, someone able to carry the puck out of the zone and direct the power play," Goulet said. "He's a very intelligent player."

Italy last played in the Olympics at the 1998 Nagano Games. It failed to qualify for Salt Lake City in 2002 but did so this time automatically as host.

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GOLD SHORTAGE: China expects to win only one Olympic gold medal in short track speedskating even though the country excels in the sport.

Coach Xin Qingshan attributed the modest goal to the tough competition, especially from South Korea, and the Chinese team's mix of less experienced and veteran skaters.

"We're pretty confident we can do that," Xin said at a news conference Thursday, the team's last media event before the Olympics.

China won two golds at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, both in women's short track and both by Yang Yang. She will be competing in Turin, her third Olympics.

Yang said China has a more well-rounded Olympic team, with potential to win medals in other sports, such as figure skating.