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Sunday, February 24, 2002
Flames and Flickers: Skategate a gold mine?

ESPN.com news services


SALT LAKE CITY -- Russian pairs skater Anton Sikharulidze believes the judging furor and other controversies were a publicity gold mine for the games.

Grandpa's skates back in Shea family
SALT LAKE CITY -- The leather cracked and faded, but the blades still gleaming, the skates that Jack Shea rode to two gold medals 70 years ago were returned to his son and grandson Sunday, ending an extraordinary journey.

"I'm overwhelmed," said Jimmy Shea, a third-generation Olympian who became the family's second gold medalist by winning the skeleton at these Winter Olympics.

Jack Shea last saw his skates after winning two speedskating golds at the Lake Placid Games in 1932 when he swapped them with Japanese skier Yamada Katsumi for Nordic skis.

Almost a half-century ago, Katsumi passed the skates along to a young friend who was a speedskater.

That youngster's name was Kozo Yoshida. Now 62 and a horse breeder in Hokkaido, Japan, Yoshida decided to return the skates to the Shea family after learning that Jack died in a car crash last month. He was 91.

Yoshida called the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper in Japan, and the newspaper arranged for a flight attendant to hand-deliver the skates from Tokyo to Salt Lake City.

Yomiuri Shimbun executive Kazuhiro Takaoka presented the skates to Jimmy and his father, Jim, an Olympic cross-country skier in 1964.

"Hey, look, it's Jack's signature," Jimmy said, examining a scratched but still-solid plate on one of the skates.

He said Yoshida's gesture is indicative of the Olympic spirit.

"Today I was showed some extreme greatness and kindness," he said. "The Olympics are not about the gold, not about the politics, but about the friendships."

Completing the circle, Jimmy gave Takaoka a runner from his gold medal-winning sled to be presented to Yoshida.

The saga of the skates -- which Yoshida wore in three inter-high school championships and was still using occasionally -- allowed Jim Shea to understand why his father was so protective of the old skis stored in the basement rafters of the family home in Lake Placid.

Jim said he and his brothers were in the basement once trying to make a sled when they asked if they could strap on those skis.

"My father said, `No, you can't use those skis, they're a special token to me.' That was all he said about them," Jim said. "I wished I'd have known about them."

He wrinkled his forehead in thought and said, "They may still be in the basement."

Katsumi died in the mid 1960s, a decade after he gave Yoshida the skates.

Yoshida said the skates were rusty and slightly large for him, but he polished them and added stuffing to make them fit.

"Back in my days, most of the skaters used Dutch- or Japanese-made skates. Jack's were Spalding, a very rare American-made brand, so I was famous among the skaters," Yoshida said.

Yoshida sent Jim and Jimmy Shea a letter along with the skates, expressing his sympathy for Jack's death and containing a wish: "As for Jimmy, a third-generation Olympian, I would like to see your son and your grandson as a fourth- and fifth-generation taking part in the games."

That won't happen on Jack's skates, which the Sheas will place in the Lake Placid Olympic Museum.

Otherwise, Jim said, "I have an 8-year-old grandson I know would be trying to wear them."

"If everything were to go quietly, nobody would watch the games, there would not be enough interest with the general public. It is cool the way it is," Sikharulidze said Sunday upon his return to Moscow.

Sikharulidze and partner Yelena Berezhnaya played down the uproar over their victory, the first in a series of events that angered Russian Olympic officials.

Though many Russians resent the decision to give a second gold to the Canadian pair, saying it showed an anti-Russian bias, Sikharulidze doesn't agree.

"No one has asked me to cut off a piece of my well-earned medal and give it away," he said. "Even if six more gold medals were awarded it would not have decreased the value of my victory. Myself, I feel great."

Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze were awarded the gold over Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier in a close decision, but Sale and Pelletier later were awarded their own gold after a French judge said she was pressured to vote a certain way.

The Russians also complained about 10-time Olympic medalist Larissa Lazutina's disqualification for failing a doping test prior to the cross-country relay, skater Irina Slutskaya's second-place finish to American Sarah Hughes in figure skating, refereeing in men's hockey and an alleged "anti-Russian" bias at the games.

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement Sunday congratulating Russia's Olympic athletes and taking note of the games' controversies.

"I thank all those who did not lose heart in this difficult atmosphere," the statement said. "The decision taken by our team to go this especially difficult Olympic distance to the finish was mature."

Russia had threatened to pull out of the games before their finish, but later relented.

Will these match my prison uniform?
The Salt Lake City-area prison inmates sorting glass from trash at a recycling plant for $1 an hour didn't have expectations of getting in on any Winter Olympics action.

But then a cardboard box of those coveted blue berets -- the American Olympic Team ones being scalped for up to $120 each -- rolled across the conveyor belt.

Larry Redmond, knowing he'd struck gold, snatched them up and stuffed them away.

"You feel like now you've been in the Olympics," said the grinning 36-year-old. "When I get out of (prison), I'll say that I was a waste engineer, helping recycle things for the Olympics."

Redmond is not allowed to wear a beret on the job, and was not supposed to keep the souvenirs. But don't tell that to his sister, who soon will be the lucky recipient of the hottest retail item at the Winter Games.

Seeds of discontent for Brooks
U.S. Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks criticized the semifinal seeding procedure following Sunday's 5-2 gold medal game loss to Canada -- the Americans' first on Olympic home ice in 70 years.

Despite having a better record (2-0-1) through three games than Canada (1-1-1), the Americans were rematched with eventual bronze medalist Russia in the semifinals. Canada had an easy matchup with Belarus, winning 7-1, after Belarus stunned Sweden in the quarterfinals.

The semifinal matchups are predetermined before the tournament starts.

Canada dominated the United States over the final 25 minutes Sunday, with Brooks suggesting his team was worn down after the tough game less than 48 hours before against Russia.

"They had better legs than we did," Brooks said. "We had a tougher route to the finals. I don't understand the seeding procedure going into the second round, because we had a tough route there.

"I don't think we had the legs we displayed before."

Back to cow country for Ammann
After jumping into the spotlight of Olympic stardom, it's back to cow country for Swiss ski-jumping sensation Simon Ammann.

Should Ammann wish to catch some belated Olympic highlights of his two-gold exploits, he'll have to trudge over to the neighbors.

While his parents in the Alpine village of Unterwasser own nine cows, they don't own a television. They watched TV with neighbors as their son won his medals.

Ammann, 20, received a hero's welcome upon returning to Switzerland on Sunday, with more than a thousand fans waiting at the Zurich airport.

Waving flags and ringing traditional Swiss cowbells, the fans roared as their Harry Potter lookalike hero walked into the arrivals hall, two golds draped around his neck.

Asked how he felt, Ammann said, "Brilliant, absolutely brilliant."

His nickname, "Simi," has been plastered all over Switzerland.

"Gold rush in Simi-Land," headlined the mass circulation daily Blick. A diner has created a "Simi Pizza," with pineapple rings representing Ammann's trademark horn-rimmed glasses, while residents have renamed a street after the athlete.

He has received congratulations from Swiss politicians, and thousands of letters from admirers.

"There have been loads of love letters, covered in hearts," his 7-year-old sister, Magdalena, told Blick.

Ammann said he has a girlfriend, but "that's private."

Summer or Winter, she's all Olympian
When Clara Hughes won two bronze cycling medals at the 1996 Summer Olympics, she was just tuning up.

"The two Olympics I have participated in as a cyclist were just training to make my skating dream come true," the Canadian said after adding a speedskating bronze to her collection.

Hughes, 29, was third in both the road race and individual time trial at Atlanta. In the 2000 Summer Games at Sydney, she finished sixth in the time trial.

Only one athlete has won gold in both the Summer and Winter Olympics: American Eddie Eagan won a lightweight boxing gold in 1920 in Antwerp, Belgium, and gold in 1932 at Lake Placid as part of the four-man bobsled team.

The other winter-summer medalists: Jacob Tullin Thams of Norway, gold in large-hill ski jumping in 1924, silver in eight-meter sailing in 1936; Christa Luding-Rothenburger of the former East Germany, gold in speedskating in 1984, silver in match sprint cycling in 1988.

Who turned out the lights?
The main Olympic media center lost power for about 20 minutes Sunday morning when a faulty circuit breaker at a substation near Salt Lake International Airport knocked out power to tens of thousands of Utah Power customers.

Utah Power spokeswoman Margaret Kesler said it wasn't immediately clear exactly how many customers lost power, which was fully restored about two hours after it was lost.

The airport, expecting a busy day with the 2002 Winter Games wrapping up Sunday, ran on generators for a while, but officials said flight operations were not affected.