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Tuesday, February 19, 2002
Ice, ice, baby

By by Sue Hovey
ESPN The Magazine

SALT LAKE CITY -- So, what happens next? What can possibly top the wacky and wonderful events weve witnessed on the Delta Center ice?

Oh, excuse me. I mean the Salt Lake Ice Center. Its only the Delta Center when the Olympics arent in town. So far, weve seen Skategate (or the Ice Storm, or whatever silly little name you want to call it), Apolo Ohno going down in a heap, and an Aussie surfer named Steven Bradbury catching the perfect wave.

Im beginning to understand why the Utah Jazz have never won an NBA title. Nothing goes quite as planned at the Delta/Salt Lake Ice Center. That is, nothing except French skaters Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat winning the ice dancing competition. (How conveeeenient.)

Not even the special medal ceremony for Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier turned out quite as golden as wed envisioned. On the contrary, it felt a bit anti-climactic, almost prefabricated. Sure, it was a nice moment. And its about time Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze got some genuine applause for a job well done. Lets not forget, while Sale and Pelletier gave the performance of their lives, they werent exactly perfect either. They landed flat on their butts at the end of their short program -- which is pretty fitting when you think about it.

If theres one thing that figure skating and short-track speedskating have in common, its that NASCAR-on-ice quality that turns us all into gleeful rubberneckers, unable to take our eyes off the wreckage.

Maybe thats why I felt so out of sorts Monday, not quite sure what to do with myself while counting down the hours until Michelle, Sasha, Sarah and Irina take the ice for real. This foursome could provide even more sparks than the ones that flashed from Alexei Yagudins eyes every time somebody mentioned his former coach, that big meanie Alexei Mishin, at the press conference following Yagudins gold turn as the Man in the Iron Mask.

Had I ventured east to Utah Olympic Park, I could have witnessed another improbable Aussie story -- aerialist Alisa Camplin winning just the second winter gold in her countrys history, less than 48 hours after Bradbury won the first. Camplins teammate, Jacqui Cooper, was the favorite coming into the Games. But Cooper tore up her left knee in practice, and Camplin came out of nowhere after overcoming nine concussions, a broken collarbone, a broken hand, a separated shoulder, a torn medial ligament and countless icky leeches lurking in the murky water beneath the practice ramp both women train on Down Under. "This is the first time Ive ever won anything!" Alisa gushed.

Had I ventured north to the Ice Sheet, I could have seen the Swiss do something nobody else has done this Olympics -- beat the mighty Canadian women in curling.

Had I ventured south and west to the E Center, I could have watched a great hockey game between the Canadians and the Czechs (even if it did end in a tie).

Instead, I found myself wandering through the Olympic Superstore, mindlessly fingering the overpriced merchandise, none of which I purchased. Why was I there? Im not quite sure, really, but Im wondering if maybe it had something to do with the fact that the Superstore is right across the street from & you guessed it, the Delta Center. (And no, I wasnt feeling guilty about skipping out on the final night of ice dancing. Sorry, but no Torvill and no Dean means no dice for me.)

The Delta Center is like a giant magnet, pulling us in. For all the great moments that have occurred elsewhere during these Games -- Simon Ammann soaring above Olympic Park, Chris Witty and Derek Parra burning up the Olympic Oval, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen skiing and shooting his way into the biathlon record books at Soldier Hollow -- its the ice inside the Delta Center that makes for the hottest stories.

And its about to get even hotter in there. Womens figure skating Tuesday night. Short-track Wednesday. Womens free skate Thursday. Mens and womens skating exhibition Friday. More short-track Saturday.

Hey, if you ask me, they might as well hold the Closing Ceremony there.

Now that would be interesting.

Sue Hovey is a senior editor at ESPN The Magazine. Email her at sue.hovey@espnmag.com.