Originally created 02/11/06

Notes from Turin



TURIN, Italy - China's first Winter Olympics champion was to be the nation's first female flag bearer when the Chinese team entered the Olympic Stadium for Friday night's opening ceremony.

Yang Yang, 30, a short track speedskater, won gold at 500 and 1,000 meters in the Salt Lake City Games and won five straight World Cup titles in short track.

"I am very excited," she said Friday. "It is the first time it's a woman carrying the flag for China. It's a big step. It's not that in China there is no equality between men and women, but they think men are stronger and taller and that they can do it better."

Besides competing on the short track at the Palavela, Yang is also up for election to the International Olympic Committee's athletes' commission at these games. She is already a member of the athletes' commission for both the International Skating Union and the World Anti-Doping Agency.

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CHRISTMAS IN FEBRUARY: Anne Abernathy, the 52-year-old slider known as "Grandma Luge," will be sporting a new look for her sixth Olympics.

Abernathy, who has represented the U.S. Virgin Islands at the Olympics since 1988, plans to don a lime-green racing suit and a cherry-red helmet for Monday's start of the women's competition.

It's not meant as a fashion statement.

"I kind of look like a Christmas tree," she said Friday at Cesane. "The red helmet is in honor of women over 50... that we can go out and do what we want to do. It's a big deal for a lot of women that someone over 50 is going out there and doing it."

Abernathy said her e-mail inbox has been flooded by goodwill messages - and even one-time antagonist Georg Hackl of Germany has come around to her side.

When Hackl, a five-time Olympic luge medalist and three-time gold medal-winner, first met Abernathy at the Calgary Games in '88, Abernathy said he told her that at 34 she was "too old" for the event.

She repaid the compliment when Hackl showed up to compete at Salt Lake City four years ago - at age 35.

Hackl, who says he is retiring after these games, has promised to buy Abernathy a beer in Turin.

"Georg and I have been friends a long time," she said. "If he goes to Vancouver (in 2010), I'll think about it."

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TRUMPING APOLO?: Short track speedskater Allison Baver is among 12 American athletes in the running for a spot on the sixth season of the Donald Trump show "The Apprentice."

The girlfriend of Apolo Anton Ohno is part of an Olympics promotion NBC is running for the reality show.

"I guess they asked me because I am getting my masters degree in business at the New York Institute of Technology," Baver said Friday.

The 25-year-old from Reading, Pa., is ranked third in this season's World Cup competition.

Viewers can vote on NBC's Olympics Web site to determine which of 12 U.S. athletes appears on the show: Baver; freestyle skier Travis Cabral; speedskater Casey FitzRandolph; bobsledder Todd Hays; speedskater Chad Hedrick; snowboarder Danny Kass; freestyle skier Joe Pack; freestyle skier Speedy Peterson; women's ice hockey player Angela Ruggiero; skeleton racer Katie Uhlaender; snowboarder Seth Wescott; and Chris Witty, the speedskater who was to carry the U.S. flag in Friday night's opening ceremony.

It is the first time the public has been asked to select a candidate for Trump's firing line. The sixth season of the show, in which contestants compete at various business-themed tasks for the real-estate mogul's approval, is to be filmed this summer in Los Angeles.

"We're thrilled to have an Olympian in our midst," Trump said in an NBC release. "And while we've let the viewers do the hiring... I'm still doing the firing."

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ROCKIN' SPORT: Curling isn't quite sweeping the globe, but the breakout hit in Salt Lake City four years ago is back and might reach new levels of popularity.

Curling tickets in Turin have been among the fastest to sell, and NBC plans to show 26 matches just eight years after CBS didn't televise the sport during its Olympic debut.

"In the early 1990s, if you told somebody you were a curler, they probably wouldn't know what you were talking about - unless they were from Canada, Sweden or Norway," said Jamie Korab of Team Canada.

Canada skip Brad Gushue bristles at the stereotype that the sport - which features 42-pound rocks gliding on ice toward a target behind two players with brooms - merely provides an excuse to drink booze.

"I don't like the reputation that the sport is all partying, and that you don't have to be athletic," Gushue said. "Sure, there are some guys who like to party and others who aren't in great shape, but that shouldn't take away from the sport."

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FLAG FACTS: Want to boost your chances of carrying your nation's flag during the Winter Games opening ceremonies? Strap on a pair of alpine skis.

Of the 80 nations scheduled to march in Friday evening's opening ceremonies, 25 were to have flags carried by an alpine skier, from Albania's Erjon Tola to Uzbekistan's Kayrat Ermetov.

Their ranks are boosted by the fact that many nontraditional Winter Games nations are represented by one or a handful of skiers.

Marino Cardelli, the only competitor and flag bearer for San Marino, the tiny republic contained inside central Italy, is a slalom skier. Mathieu Razanakolona, Madagascar's first ever Winter Games competitor, is also a skier.

And Ireland's flagbearer, Kristen McGarry, is one of just five Irish athletes in Italy - three of them alpine skiers.

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WHAT A COUNTRY: Denis Petukhov became an American citizen a year ago. The Russian-born ice dancer, who married partner Melissa Gregory in 2001, brought his mother, Luba, to the United States for the first time in December.

"We went into a grocery store just around Christmas time, and her eyes went as wide as silver dollars," Gregory said Friday. "She couldn't believe the size of the store and all the choices. She said, 'You have fruit in winter? How is that possible?"

It was the first time Petukhov's mother was able to visit the United States. Until he became a citizen, she was denied visas.

Her son has become quite Americanized over the last five years. Perhaps his favorite pastime: test drives.

"He was like a kid in a candy store," Gregory said. "When he found out you could test drive a car, he drove every car he could find."

Petukhov was beaming when his wife brought up the subject.

"Yeah, Mercedes, BMWs, Porsche," he said with a laugh. "But not a Ferrari. Not yet."

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MORE MEDALS: Janica Kostelic, who won triple gold four years ago at the Salt Lake City Games, is looking for more in Turin.

The 24-year-old Croatian skier won the slalom, giant slalom and combined and took silver in the super-G at the last Olympics.

"Olympic Games are something most important in the life of any athlete," Kostelic said Friday before departing Zagreb, Croatia, for Turin. "But there is no pressure this time. I feel nice."

Kostelic is the only female Alpine skier to win three golds at a single games. Two men, Toni Sailer in 1956 and Jean-Claude Killy in 1968, have accomplished the feat.

Kostelic has battled bad knees and undergone a number of surgeries throughout her career, but has said she plans to compete in all five alpine ski disciplines in Turin. She leads the current overall World Cup standings.

"It would be stupid to say that I don't expect anything - everybody goes to the games to win medals," she said. "Unfortunately, some of our people don't understand that it's hard."

Kostelic said one man told her she didn't have to win five medals, only three.

"I said, 'OK,' like I'm going to buy cabbage. But it's not that easy."