PROVO ? Brigham Young University students have spent months vigorously preparing for the harsh winter sports of the 2002 Winter Games.

And they didn't even have to leave the classroom.

BYU computer students created the computerized clips of sporting events featured on the large Jumbotron-like screens at Olympic venues.

"Students are great. They don't know something can't be done," said Bill Barrett, BYU professor of computer science.

"We started five years ago with a vision of a virtual Olympics," he said. "Now, I think you're going to see what they've done become very valuable as a training tool."

The student-generated animation shows the precise path taken by downhill and slalom skiers, bobsled and skeleton runners, ski jumpers, snowboarders and lugers. The speed skating oval was recreated by computer.

Mountains and hills are stretched like skin over a framework of computer generated topography based on maps and geological data and photographs.

To create the animation, students took a lump of "virtual clay" on the screen and pushed and pulled it into a bobsleigh or a luge sled.

"It's just like sculpture in 3-D," said student Mike Warner.

Turns, gates and obstacles are then created so virtual athletes can then ski or jump or slide on the course with an idea of what could occur if they make certain decisions.

"We can split it up so two skiers can make different choices," said Scott Hunter, a freelance animator who works with BYU students. "We see where one went off the jump and caught too much air, putting him way down into the bowl."

The other skier, though, "came out wide and shaved precious seconds," he said.

Barrett said the team of students spent "several hundred weeks" making the movies. "We had to take a pretty good size chunk of data and squeeze it down to postage stamp size to put virtual venues on the Web," he said.

BYU professors boast about the teaching tool for students? but they also like creating a fun, educational diversion for Olympic crowds.

"They can watch the movies and understand what's going on in the event," he said.

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