Sunday, October 20, 2013


Winner Wonderland For U.s.

February 10, 2006
By CATHY HARASTA, The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS — The addition of extreme sports has helped transform the United States into a Winter Games power.
A new Ice Age, edgy and madcap, has helped shift the balance of power in Team USA's favor, setting the stage for perhaps a record-setting Winter Games in the Italian Alps this month.
The U.S. has capitalized on the Olympic program's new twists and more extreme sports. Considering returning medalists from the 2002 Games and greater depth in consistently successful sports, the U.S. might even -- gasp! -- win the Turin Olympics.
How over the top would that be?
Much of the nation's improvement reflects success in events that are new to the Olympics since 1992. Team USA's medal production has increased almost six times since the 1988 Calgary Winter Games.
In the last four Winter Games, 44 percent of U.S. medals were won in sports not on the program until 1992 or later and in skeleton, which returned to the Games in 2002 after a 54-year absence. Almost half of the nation's record 34 medals at the 2002 Winter Games also came in the recently added sports.
Traditionalists might sneer at freestyle skiing's theatrics, short-track speedskating's bump-and-grind mayhem and snowboarding's off-the-wall antics. But the "hot dog" sports have been gold mines for Team USA.
"There's sort of a rebelliousness and youth culture making the Games fresher and hipper," said Mark Dyreson, an author on Olympic history and a faculty member in Penn State's departments of history and kinesiology. "Part of this perhaps is the Americanization of global culture. The International Olympic Committee was very shrewd. They definitely took a look at the winter program. You've got to have the United States watching."
Moguls and short track speedskating led the new-look Games with their 1992 Olympic debuts. At the previous Winter Games, in 1988, the U.S. won just six medals to finish in the middle of the pack. That mediocrity changed beginning in 1992.
The addition of women's events in ice hockey and bobsled also helped the U.S. medal count, which hit a record 34 at the Salt Lake City Winter Games in 2002. The U.S. finished second to Germany (36 medals), altering the general perception of Team USA as not ready for prime time. Its previous top medal count was 13.
Of the 71 medals the U.S. won in the last four Winter Games, 31 came in events that were not in the Olympics before 1992 and in skeleton. Team USA's 2002 Olympic medals included 16 won in events that never had been Olympic sports until 1992 or later and in skeleton.
Five of the record 10 gold medals in 2002 came in skeleton and in events that were not in the Winter Olympic before 1998 (snowboarding's halfpipe and women's bobsled).
But if the U.S. ends up topping the medal table in Turin, some purists will scoff at the achievement, said Derick Hulme, an international relations professor at Alma (Mich.) College who has written in depth about the politics of the Games.
"The sense would be that it happened because of these fake sports," Hulme said. "It's perceived by the purists as being a bastardizing of the Winter Games.
"I don't think it would translate into a better image of the U.S. being perceived more powerfully."
Breaking with tradition, U.S. Olympic Committee leaders declined to set a numerical target for medals in Turin. USOC chief Jim Scherr said the committee's goal in Turin medals was "not to decline."
"If we create expectations, we can put additional pressure on athletes that may be detrimental," said Jim McCarthy, the USOC's 2006 chef de mission, or delegation leader, in Turin.
The U.S.'s strong results in recent World Cup seasons and championships, however, bode well for Turin.
"The U.S. could win eight or even nine medals in snowboarding alone," said Tracy Anderson, senior editor of San Diego-based Future Snowboarding magazine. "It's hip. It's youthful. There are a lot of activities in the Winter Olympics that don't appeal to the younger demographic."
Anderson said snowboarders wanted no part of the Olympics in the early 1990s but have helped the sport join the mainstream since it first appeared in the Games in 1998.
"The Olympics was considered too uncool," he said. "Snowboarding was considered a fringe, subcultural activity. It was sort of a punk thing."
U.S. moguls medal contender Jeremy Bloom said the Olympics needed the new events, which help define a new style and dimension of athleticism.
"It's important to have freestyle skiing and halfpipe (snowboarding)," Bloom said. "I love to jump and I love to catch big air."
Anderson underscored Bloom's point by noting NBC's report of a 23 percent ratings increase among 18- to 34-year-olds for the 2002 Winter Games over the previous edition.
"The challenge has been to try to make the Winter Games as relevant as possible," Hulme said. "The pragmatists are saying, 'Listen, we're fighting for our lives here. We have to make these Games relevant to people who are going to be watching for the next 50 years.' "

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