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Sunday, February 24, 2002
Updated: February 25, 5:50 PM ET
Americans finish just one short of medals leader

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY -- Until the Olympics arrived in Utah, the highest U.S. medal count at the Winter Games was 13. Even before the first event, there was a feeling among the U.S. athletes that number wouldn't stand.

It did not.

The new record is a whopping 34 medals, just three less than the Americans won combined in the last three Winter Games. That includes 10 golds, four more than the previous U.S. high. The Americans were just one behind overall medals leader Germany.

"We're the United States, and we're here to play," speedskater Derek Parra said Sunday, recalling the early buzz among U.S. athletes in the Olympic Village. "Every athlete has been behind each other."

With chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A" echoing through the Wasatch Mountains, it was a spectacular Olympics for America.

"I feel like a very proud mother today," said U.S. Olympic Committee president Sandy Baldwin. "We all put a lot of work into these games. The USOC really made a plan. This is not serendipity."

USOC officials publicly predicted at least 20 medals, although an internal memo disclosed last week suggested a more accurate forecast was 27. But nobody expected 34.

"I'm thrilled and surprised," Baldwin said. "Because of the element of danger in many winter sports, I personally thought 27 medals would have been a real gamble."

How to explain the success? Follow the money. Baldwin credited Podium 2002, the USOC's $40 million program that more than doubled the amount spent before the 1998 Nagano Games.

The USOC handed out almost $5 million in cash to athletes for training and living costs, and boosted its bonus program for medalists. A gold medal was worth $25,000, silver $15,000 and bronze $10,000.

"This is the first four years where speedskaters have been funded like professional athletes," said Parra, who won gold in the 1,500 meters and silver in the 5,000. "That's how we're able to compete with the Dutch skaters."

Some of the USOC money went for research in sports science and technology. It also didn't hurt the Americans that Salt Lake organizers added 12 events to the 66 staged in Nagano.

Four U.S. golds and one silver came from those new events.

Apolo Anton Ohno won short-track speedskating's 1,500 meters, Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers won women's bobsled, Jim Shea won men's skeleton, while Tristan Gale won women's skeleton and Lea Ann Parsley was second.

Bakken is from Park City and Gale from Salt Lake, athletes drawn to their sports by facilities built for the Olympics. Americans also were helped by racing at many sites where they train.

Athletes in the sliding sports, for example, are familiar with the curves and lines on the Utah Olympic Park track that produced three U.S. golds, three silvers and two bronze.

"We've spent a lot of time in Park City," said Brian Martin, who with Mark Grimmette won silver in doubles luge.

It wasn't exclusively a Red, White and Blue Olympics.

Germany's total was a Winter Olympics record that exceeded its previous mark by six, set in Nagano. After the United States came Norway, which will take home 24 medals, 11 gold.

American athletes also credited their success to summits last summer where potential medalists from each sport took part in problem-solving challenges and swapped stories about their trials and triumphs.

They made friends, and it brought them together in Salt Lake. They ate meals together, offering encouragement, and it wasn't uncommon for athletes in one sport to attend other events to cheer for their buddies.

"In the past, we've been the U.S. luge team, the U.S. speedskating team, the U.S. ski team and so on," Grimmette said. "Here in Salt Lake City, we all came together as the U.S. Olympic team."