<
>

Kwan not only great athlete to not win big prize

2/12/2006

STARTING OFF ...

There have been two collective thoughts over the last few hours on Michelle Kwan: She was selfish for coming to Torino or she was a competitive athlete trying to reach her dream.

No matter which side you choose, you can still agree with another point: Kwan will seemingly leave the big stage without winning the biggest prize.

So, who are some of the other great athletes who have dominated their respective sports without winning the ultimate?

• Dan Marino: I was never a fan of the Dolphins quarterback as I spent some of my childhood in South Florida. But you can't argue with the man's stats. Marino holds 25-plus NFL records, but the most impressive of all is his single-season passing record (5,084). In the end, though, Marino reached the Super Bowl just once (1985 vs. San Francisco), leaving without a win.

• Karl Malone: The Mailman retired in 2005 as the NBA's second all-time leading scorer with 36,374 points and trailed only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Of Malone's 36,000-plus points, 9,787 were free throws -- the most in NBA history. But in 19 seasons, Malone never won an NBA title.

• Pete Sampras: Well, this one is a little different, but ... Sampras won a record 14 Grand Slam titles, but none of them coming on the clay of Roland Garros. Some were critical of Sampras, saying he wasn't an all-around great player because he couldn't win on every surface.

• Barry Bonds: The Giants slugger set the single-season record for home runs with 73 over the 2001 season. His 708 career homers trail only Babe Ruth (714) and Hank Aaron (755). But in his 20 seasons, he's never won a World Series.

• Marcel Dionne: We thought about Mike Gartner and Cam Neely, as well, but Dionne's numbers were too much. The Hall of Famer had 731 goals and 1,771 points over 19 NHL seasons. He is the NHL's fourth all-time goal scorer behind Gretzky, Howe and Hull, but no Stanley Cups.

Which brings us back to Kwan. She has five world championships and has made the world podium for nine straight years; she has nine U.S. titles and and reached that podium for 14 straight years. She also has won the silver and bronze at the Olympics.

What Kwan also shares with other athletes is her fierce competitiveness.

"For athletes, the whole nature of sports is to keep trying," said ESPN figure skating analyst Christine Brennan. "If Michelle were healthy, you'd want her on the Olympic team. It's unfortunate for her that it turned out this way. She wanted to try, and of all people, you give Michelle Kwan that chance.

"You see the sequins and you see the beautiful hair and make-up, and you think it's just foo-foo on ice. But Kwan is one of the toughest athletes and competitors I've met in any sport."

And in figure skating, Kwan will be remembered as one of the best.
-- Joy Russo

DOWN WITH DA MASSES

The United States doesn't get into alpine skiing the way Europeans do. It's a shame, because it's one heck of a party.

At Sunday's men's downhill race, the Kandahar Banchetta course showcased the colors of the world. Scots in kilts blaring
bagpipes, Aussies waving an inflatable plastic kangaroo called Skippy, beer-swigging Italians who -- perhaps in a riff on American
party boy Bode Miller -- enjoyed watching wasted.

Then there was the deadpan Swiss man wearing a bouffant Elvis hairpiece. "No, Elvis is not skiing today. But he'll be coming down from
the sky at 1 p.m. in a helicopter,'' joked 41-year-old Eric Mairet.

Then, there were three Australians, the lone members of the Craig Branch fan club. They had flown in to cheer on their compatriot, who started first and finished 32nd. "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!'' they erupted in a roar as Branch tore down the mountain.

The rowdiness will likely take on a whole new level Tuesday, when skiing goes under the lights in the men's combined.
-- ESPN.com wire services

SNOW DAZE

You wouldn't think it, but a blizzard that pounded the Northeast on Sunday is having an effect on the Olympic Games in Italy.

Emily Hughes, who was just added to the figure skating roster in place of Michelle Kwan, said that she and her family were unsure what their travel plans were going to be because the weather was hampering arrangements. For Hughes, her first day of competition is Feb. 21, the day of the ladies' short program.

As for members of the U.S. men's hockey team, they won't have that luxury.

Only two members of the American team -- goalie John Grahame and defenseman Jordan Leopold -- will be able to fly out of the United States on Monday as the NHL shut down its season for the Olympics after Sunday's games. The rest of the team is excepted to arrive on Tuesday and head straight to a practice session. The men's team's first game is Wednesday vs. Latvia.

If only the mountains here in Italy could see more of the powdery stuff.
-- Joy Russo