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U.S. hopes high in non-ski events

Be it a debut sport or breakthrough sport, chances are the United States will earn a medal in such events at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

Making Olympic debuts are men's and women's curling and women's ice hockey, while National Hockey League superstars are making their first appearance in men's hockey competition. Newness aside, the U.S. could come away with medals in each of the four aforementioned events.And Americans are hoping to break long medal droughts in sports such as luge and bobsled. In the case of the former, the U.S. has never won a medal; as for the latter, it has been some four decades since an American garnered a bobsled medal.

Americans could collect an armload of medals in figure skating while managing just one or two, at best, in speedskating.


- Events: men's two- and four-man.

- Dates and venue: Feb. 14-15, 20-21; at Iizuna Kogen (the Spiral track).

- 1994 revisited: Brian Shimer and Randy Jones finished 13th in the two-man; Shimer's four-man crew was disqualified, with Randy Will's foursome placing 15th.

- Medal history: The U.S. won two golds and six medals overall in the two-man, but they all came in the first four competitions and Americans haven't placed higher than fifth since 1952. In the four-man, the U.S. has tallied eight overall and three golds, but no medals since 1956 - although the Americans missed a bronze at Calgary in 1988 by 0.02 seconds.

- Outlook: Shimer is back after a strong 1996-97 World Cup - five medals - and a third-place finish in the two-man final standings, while Jim Herberich won three World Cup medals last season. Jones is considered the most decorated push-athlete on the U.S. squad and fellow Shimer-crew pushman Chip Minton has a personality to match his background (professional wrestler, bodybuilder and former prison guard).

- Medals outlook: Shimer is the best U.S. bet in the two- and four-man, but he may still get shut out once again.


- Events: men's and women's curling.

- Dates and venue: Feb. 9-15, at Karuizawa (Kazakoshi Park Arena).

- 1992 revisited: Curling was a demonstration sport at Albertville in 1992 but not conducted in Lillehammer in 1994. The U.S. men finished third in 1992, while the U.S. women didn't qualify.

- Medal history: The U.S. men's demonstration bronze in '92.

- Outlook: After a six-year absence, curling is making its official Olympic debut. It was a four-time demonstration sport - at the 1924, 1932, 1988 and 1992 Games. The skips (leaders) of both the U.S. men's and women's team have Olympic experience.

- Medal prospects: Canada will dominate, but the U.S. should sneak in at least a bronze in both tournaments.

Figure skating

- Events: men's singles, women's singles, pairs, ice dancing.

- Dates and venue: Feb. 8-10, 12-16, 18-20, 21, at Nagano (White Ring).

- 1994 revisited: Brian Boitano returned from the professional ranks to place sixth in the men's. With rival Tonya Harding also competing in Lillehammer, Nancy Kerrigan captured the women's silver. Jenni Meno and Todd Sand finished fifth in pairs, while Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerold Swallow placed 15th in dance.

- Medal history: In singles, U.S. men have won six gold (more than any other country) and 13 medals overall; the women have 17 medals and five gold, with at least one medal in the past seven Olympics. Americans have won six medals - but no gold - in pairs and only one bronze 22 years ago in dance.

- Outlook: There's talk of a possible U.S. sweep in the women's competition, with teens Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski taking turns winning national and world titles the past two years. Nicole Bobek rounds out the powerful American troika. In the men's singles, five-time U.S. champion Todd Eldredge won the world title two years ago before finishing second to Canada's Elvis Stojko last year.

Longtime U.S. runners-up Kyoka Ina and Jason Dungjen edged Meno and Sand for the current U.S. pairs title, with the two duos placing fourth and fifth in the worlds. Punsalan and Swallow have won four U.S. ice dancing championships while placing sixth in the worlds, with Salt Lake native Charles Butler and Jessica Joseph coming off a world junior title.

- Medal prospects: Kwan and Lipinski should finish 1-2 - or 2-1 - while anything less than gold or silver will be a disappointment for Eldredge. Look for Ina and Dungjen to medal in pairs.

Ice hockey

- Events: men's and women's tournaments.

- Dates and venues: Men - Feb. 13-18, 20-22; women - Feb. 8-9, 11-12, 14-17; at Nagano (Big Hat and Aqua Wing).

- 1994 revisited: The U.S. men finished eighth.

- Medal history: Of the nine overall medals, America's men have won their 2 golds the last two times the Games have been on U.S. soil - 1960 in Squaw Valley and 1980 at Lake Placid. Women's hockey makes its Olympic debut.

- Outlook: The National Hockey League is taking a regular-season "winter break" while making its first foray into the Olympics. And the U.S. is just one of a half-dozen "Dream Teams" as NHL stars also highlight the rosters of Canada (Gretzky, Roy, Lindros, Kariya), Russia (Bure, Federov), Sweden (Forsberg, Salo), Finland (Selanne, Karri) and the Czech Republic (Jagr, Hasek). The U.S. boasts the likes of Brett Hull, Pat LaFontaine, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk, John Vanbiesbrouck.

Seeded second to Canada, the American women beat both Finland and their neighbors to the north in the recent Three Nations Cup tournament. The two teams have met 13 times since a pre-Olympic exhibition in West Valley City's E Center in October, with Canada winning seven times, the U.S. six, and eight games being decided by a one-goal margin.

- Medal prospects: The U.S. and Canada will battle for the gold in both the men's and women's finals.

Long track speed skating

- Events: Men - 500-, 1,000-, 1,5000-, 5,000- and 10,000-kilometer races; women - 500-, 1,000-, 1,500-, 3,000- and 5,000-kilometer races.

- Dates and venue: Feb. 8-17, 19-20; at Nagano (M-Wave).

- 1994 revisited: Bonnie Blair won the women's 500 and 1,000 to finish with an Olympic career five golds. After plagued by family tragedy and bad luck in previous Games, Dan Jansen finally won his gold in his final race, the 1,000 meters.

- Medal history: The U.S. men have won 15 gold - including Eric Heiden's five in the 1980 Lake Placid Games - and 24 total medals. Led by Blair's five gold, American women have claimed eight gold and 22 total medals.

- Outlook: Blair and Jansen are gone, so the U.S. squad is depleted of Olympic success. In fact, American speed skating may use Nagano as a stepping stone for the start of a new era and a strong showing at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. Former inline skater KC Boutiette joins Casey FitzRandolph and David Cruikshank (Blair's husband) to lead the U.S. men. Chris Witty recently won a bronze in the World Sprint Championships and highlights the women's squad, which includes Kirsten Holum, daughter of four-time Olympic medalist Diane Holum.

The introduction of the clap skate will be key in Nagano, with the Americans generally struggling to keep up with the successes of international counterparts who have had a longer time to use the new skates.

- Medal prospects: American's may have to settle for a medal by Boutiette in the 1,500 and Witty in the 1,000 - and not much else.


- Events: men's singles and doubles, women's singles.

- Dates and venue: Feb. 8-11, 13; at Iizuna Kogen (the Spiral track).

- 1994 revisited: Wendel Suckow finished fifth in the singles, while Mark Grimmette and Jonathan Edwards placed fourth in the doubles. Cammy Myler, who carried the U.S. flag in the Lillehammer opening ceremonies, finished 11th in the women's singles.

- Medal history: The United States has never won a medal in the luge. The top finishes were the men's places in 1994 and Myler's fifth-place finish in 1992.

- Outlook: Like in the bobsled, this could be a coming-out year for the United States, who send to Nagano a veteran Olympic team with recent international success. The tandem of Chris Thorpe and Gordy Sheer won World Championship silvers in 1995 and 1996 before winning the 1997 World Cup crown. But Thorpe is coming off a broken wrist, while the Grimmette-Sheer duo won three of the first four races of the 1997-98 World Cup season.

In singles, Suckow, the 1993 world champion, won the gold in last year's World Cup race on the same Spiral course, which earned him "The Bullet" nickname from Japanese media. But Suckow has struggled to break the top five in pre-Olympic international competition. Myler is back for her fourth Games, with seven national titles to her credit.

- Medal prospects: Look for the U.S. to win at least one - and possibly two - medals in the doubles, with Suckow adding a singles medal as well.

Short track speed skating

- Events: men - 500- and 1,000-meter individual races and 5,000-kilometer relay; women's 500- and 1,000-kilometer races and 3,000-kilometer relay.

- Dates and venue: Feb. 17, 19 and 21; at Nagano (White Ring).

- 1994 revisited: In repeat performances from the 1992 Games, Cathy Turner grabbed the gold in the 500, while the U.S. women won the bronze in the relay. Amy Peterson added the bronze in the 500. Top outings for the American men included the silver in the relay and Andy Gabel's ninth place in the 1,000.

- Medal history: Since short track speed skating events were added during the 1990s, the only women's medals are Turner's two gold, Peterson's bronze and the pair of relay bronzes. Also, the 1994 relay silver is the only men's medal.

- Outlook: The Americans boast a blend of veteran leadership and up-and-coming talent in short track, which is speed skating in head-to-head competition (long track speed skating has participants racing the clock, not each other). Back are two-time gold medalist Turner and bronze-winner Peterson for the women, while the men are highlighted by four-time Olympians Gabel and Eric Flaim, who were part of the silver-medal relay squad four years ago.

- Medals outlook: The U.S. has its best chances with Peterson in the 500 and its women's team in the relay.