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Monday, February 18, 2002
Flames and Flickers: Paramedic denied WTC decal news services

PARK CITY, Utah -- New York City paramedic Michael Voudouris will be speeding down the skeleton chute at the Olympics. The Twin Towers won't make the trip with him.

Skategate boosting NBC ratings?
A slew of elements -- some under NBC's control, others not -- are helping the network avoid the TV audience shortfalls that plagued the last two Olympics and led to the airing of extra commercials.

After consecutive days of double-digit percentage declines, the ratings rose 22 percent from Saturday night's Salt Lake City-low of 14.0 to a 17.1 for Sunday's coverage from 7:30-11:15 p.m. ET.

That put NBC's prime-time average at 18.3 (each rating point represents about 1.05 million U.S. TV homes), a number boosted by, among other things, a scandal in pairs figure skating and naturally higher interest in an Olympics on U.S. soil.

Ratings are "right about where we thought they'd be," NBC president Randy Falco said Monday. "I love it when a plan comes together."

The ratings are 24 percent higher than the 10-day average for the 2000 Sydney Summer Games on NBC, and 10 percent above the 1998 Nagano Winter Games on CBS. Those are the two lowest-rated Olympics since 1968, and the networks showed additional commercials to make up the difference to advertisers who were told they would reach more viewers.

A big spike for Salt Lake City came from the highest-rated opening ceremony ever (25.2). If that is taken out, and only the days with Olympic action are compared, the ratings for the current Winter Games are about 4.5 percent higher than Nagano's. Still, for NBC and its sponsors, the opening ceremony certainly counts.

Among other factors are the U.S. team's record medal haul, shorter prime-time shows, fewer and shorter features, little competition from other networks, and constant promotion on other NBC programming, including "Today" and local and national news.

Voudouris, who has dual citizenship and competes for Greece, said Monday the International Bobsled Federation rejected his request to race with a picture of the towers and other memorials on the bottom of his sled.

"They said that's not allowed. That's a political statement," he explained.

Voudouris, who ranked 41st on the World Cup tour last season, approached federation officials "as a courtesy" after arriving at the Olympics and mentioned the World Trade Center picture.

"They quoted IOC rule No. 61," Voudouris said. "I don't know what the small print says, but it has to do with the placement of personal decals."

So he stashed his sled in his room and borrowed a modern, more expensive model from U.S. racer Trevor Christie, who didn't qualify for the Olympic team.

"It was like going from a Volkswagen to a Maserati," Voudouris said.

Meanwhile, Voudouris appealed the decision to the International Olympic Committee and expects to know more before Wednesday's races. The IOC bowed to public pressure and allowed American athletes to carry a flag from the World Trade Center at the opening ceremony on Feb. 8.

"They have already honored the people from ground zero in the opening ceremonies with the flag," said International Bobsled Federation spokeswoman Ingeborg Kollbach.

The bobsled federation doesn't "want to give any part of a controversy," Kollbach said. The sport, where athletes race facefirst down a bobsled track, is returning to the Olympics for the first time since 1948.

The 41-year-old Voudouris was disappointed.

"It's on the underside," he said. "No one's going to see it unless it flips over."

An IOC spokesman didn't return telephone messages seeking comment.

Voudouris' sled also includes the names of nine victims who worked for ambulance services, as well as the Star of Life symbol that adorns ambulances just about anywhere.

Steve Young lending a hand at Olympics
Steve Young's even a triple threat at the Olympics.

Young, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and a descendent of Mormon pioneer Brigham Young, was the first volunteer signed up to help with tasks big and small at the Winter Games.

So far, he's carried Britain's team banner in the parade of athletes at the opening ceremony and helped warm up the crowd for pop group Train at the Olympic Medals Plaza.

Monday morning, the work was more mundane. The former Pro Bowl quarterback was playing paperboy, toting a stack of newspapers through the lobby of the International Olympic Committee's hotel.

Hearts of gold? Make that crystal
Jamie Sale and David Pelletier weren't the only ones leaving their special medals ceremony with a new trinket.

After the Canadians accepted their gold medals in a special awards ceremony Sunday night, they gave co-champions Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze two white boxes, each containing a crystal heart.

"Anton and Elena were involved in this against their will, and so were we," Sale said. "Just to appreciate the sportsmanship about the entire thing, we thought it was nice to give them a little something from us."

The Canadians finished second to Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze by the slimmest of margins in the pairs final Feb. 11. But a French judge later admitted she'd been pressured to put the Russians first.

Acknowledging a wrong had been done, the International Olympic Committee awarded a second gold medal to Sale and Pelletier.

WADA head: Supplement companies fight regulation
SALT LAKE CITY -- The World Anti-Doping Agency criticized food-supplement makers Monday and urged Olympic sports to avoid sponsorships with them until there are guarantees the products are drug-free.

Athletes risk violating rules on banned substances because supplements aren't covered by federal drug-screening laws, said Dick Pound, an IOC member from Canada and head of the first independent agency to oversee drug testing and education in sports.

"You are in a buyer-beware situation," Pound said. "You have to ask, `Why is the industry fighting so much?' Because they know that the stuff is creating a doping problem."

It's always the same: 'I didn't know, someone gave it to me, I got it off the toilet seat.' We have to eliminate the series of denials.
Dick Pound

An International Olympic Committee study, yet to be completed, found about 20 percent of more than 600 supplements tested contained at least small amounts of banned performance enhancers.

Until all supplements are screened for contamination, athletes and sports bodies should stop signing sponsorship deals, Pound said.

"I'd be reluctant to have a sponsorship arrangement while the industry is fighting regulation and offering disinformation," he said.

Supplements, which can be bought over the counter in health-food and nutrition stores, have been blamed for a number of drug positives in recent years, usually involving tests for nandrolone, a strength-building steroid.

Most recently, U.S. bobsledder Pavle Jovanovic of Toms River, N.J., was suspended for two years after testing positive for traces of nandrolone that he believes was in a protein powder his coach gave him as a meal substitute.

Jovanovic also told an arbitration panel that he used 31 different supplements. The case showed that repeated warnings of tainted supplements were being ignored, Pound said.

"Those who use nutritional supplements with this knowledge are either being deliberate or reckless," he said. "It's always the same: 'I didn't know, someone gave it to me, I got it off the toilet seat.' We have to eliminate the series of denials."

American Hughes retools free program
SALT LAKE CITY -- Sarah Hughes' free skate program will look a little different than it has the rest of the season.

Between last month's U.S. nationals and arriving in Salt Lake City, Hughes and coach Robin Wagner retooled the last 90 seconds of the program to give it more energy. Instead of a piece from Rachmaninoff, the program ends to music from Daphnis and Chloe.

"It was really, truly based on wanting to do something new and fresher," Wagner said. "I just thought that other program required too much of her emotional energy at the end of the program to make it go, `Wow!'

"This program pushes her along and adds to the energy of the music. Hopefully it will bring people out of their seats."

And giving the 16-year-old American something new to do in practice didn't hurt, either.

"It gives her something fresh to work on at the end of a long season," Wagner said.

At the Olympics, not every rose has its thorn
Mary Goodro worries that an Olympic athlete will raise a gold medal high overhead and come down with a bloody finger.

Goodro is one of 16 flower arrangers who de-thorn hundreds of yellow roses a day for the bouquets presented to Olympic medalists.

Despite wearing thick gloves, she gets her share of nicks. "We're sacrificing ourselves for the Olympians," she said.

The bouquets hark back to the ancient tradition of presenting an olive wreath to Olympic winners. Nightly at the Olympic medals plaza, 25 yellow rosebuds, appropriately named "Golden Gate" roses, are presented to each medal-winning athlete.

That's the end of a long trip for the roses, which are grown in Ecuador and shipped to Miami, then trucked to the Olympics.

Presidential, pardon?
Lincolns, Kennedys and Johnsons were listed as Olympic participants on Presidents Day, a national holiday in the United States.

Courtney Kennedy of the U.S. women's hockey team hails from Massachusetts, but isn't part of the political family dynasty.

Andrew Johnson was the name of the 17th president of the United States, but cross-country skier Andrew Johnson of Greensboro, Vermont, said he hadn't even thought about Presidents Day and just planned to spend it training.

Lincoln Dewitt is a skeleton rider from Park City, Utah, with a presidential nickname: "Honest Abe."

Hometown reviews
Medalists from around the world were being heralded back home in quite different ways.

Newspapers in China saluted the country's first Winter Olympics gold ever without saying much about the woman who won it, speedskater Yang Yang (A).

Italian Daniela Ceccarelli's Super G victory was joyously celebrated around her country, where she was being compared to the great Alberto Tomba.

In Norway, a newspaper advertisement congratulating alpine skier Kjetil Andre Aamodt for his second gold of the games appeared to violate Olympic rules.

Aamodt's ski and boot supplier paid for the ad, which had a picture of the skier kissing his skis, with the company's Nordica logo and a note of thanks. Olympic rules generally prohibit sponsors printing photographs of athletes and citing their results during the Games.

"I reacted strongly when I heard about the ad. I have had no contact with my equipment maker about such marketing, and it was completely unknown to me that the advertisement was going to be printed," Aamodt said.

No disciplinary action is likely.

In China, papers ran front-page photos of Yang holding a Chinese flag, but that was about all the notice she received. The People's Daily, the Communist Party newspaper with no sports section, called the win a "historic breakthrough" for China but barely mentioned the athlete and didn't even list her hometown.

Italy's reaction to the triumph by Ceccarelli was considerably more personal. Premier Silvio Berlusconi phoned her and newspapers hailed the "city skier" from the Rome suburb of Rocca Priora.