- Title: ITALY: OLYMPIC GAMES - Fans from all over the world celebrating
- Date: 26th February 2006
- Summary: SESTRIERE, ITALY (FEBRUARY 19, 2006) (REUTERS) FRENCH FLAG FLYING DURING MEN'S SUPER-G VARIOUS OF FRENCH FANS CELEBRATING WITH BELLS AND FLAGS AND MUSIC AFTER DENERIAZ WENT DOWN THE SLOPE AMERICAN FANS WITH FLAGS NORWEGIAN FAN WALKING PAST MORE OF NORWEGIAN FANS SHOUTING 'AAMODT', NORWEGIAN SUPER-G GOLD MEDAL WINNER (ONE OF 2 GOLD MEDALISTS FOR NORWAY) MEN IN COSTUMES BLOWING PLASTIC HORNS
- Embargoed: 13th March 2006 12:00
- Location: Italy
- Country: Italy
- Topics: Sports
- Reuters ID: LVA5C2JNI7EGZXSW8PHZPU798B8E
- Story Text: Fans from all over the world had high medal glory hopes at the start of the 2006 Winter Games.
The French began this short season with a surprise gold medal win in the men's downhill, Norwegians were fired up by their powerful Salt Lake medal victories, Americans made sure bets on favourites alpine favourites Bode Miller and Daron Rhalves.
The sun was shining, the hot wine was flowing, the mountain horns were blowing. But, just a day or two before the end of the alpine events, a harsh chill grips some nations.
Norway, historically one of the most successful nations at the Winter Olympics, lost its Midas touch for the Turin challenge.
Norwegian athletes won the highest number of gold medals at in the 2002 Salt Lake games. Four years on, they have tumbled to 13th position in the medal table with only 2 golds.
With one more day to go they could fall even further down the table
"Not the best this year. No. We use to be good, normally, but somebody's better. That's it," said Norwegian fan Harold Bolsoy, who came to the games after his sister won tickets in a competition.
At one point in this Olympics, Norway and the United States were neck and neck.
Drowning his sorrows in a bar set up for Norwegian fans in Cesana, at the bottom of the ski lift to the biathlon venue, Sven Bergan was unimpressed.
"Same as Americans ha. We use to be better than them," he said.
Norway won 8 silvers and 9 bronze medals this year. Former Norwegian cross country coach Sindre Bergan thinks the athletes are sitting on their laurels.
But so far the alchemic art of turning those baser metals into the most precious of all has proved elusive.
Norway's greatest hope Ole Einar Bjorndalen won four biathlon golds at Salt Lake City and had his sights set on 5 this time around. He had to settle for silver in the 20km individual event, finished 12th in the 10 sprint and took bronze in the final 15km mass start. One of the country's highest profile skier Marit Bjorgen had to pull out of the women's 15km cross country pursuit after half an hour because he stomach, the team doctor said, was churning "like a washing machine."
Bergan however said there was more to it than illness and false starts. Stomach upsets, colds and bad throats have spread through the Nordic combined team.
"Well, its many factors. There's been much illness amongst the Norwegians both before the Olympics and also during the Olympics. That's one reason but its not the only explanation. I think maybe, maybe we are a little bit fat and lazy, you know, going very well both in 98, 2002 and; its the fat and lazy syndrome so we have to go home now and prepare very well for the Vancouver 2010," Bergan said.
Leading the games in the medals table by a wide and clear margin is Germany with 10 gold medals followed closely by Austria and the United States with 8 gold each.
Germany wanted 24 medals and now have 27 and there could still be more in the pipeline with one day left Germans won 36 medals in Salt Lake city
"We are now an Olympic power. The Germans, I believe, especially in Biathlon. Its really great," said one German fan.
The competition is most fierce between Germany and Austria. His companion said she was looking forward to spening her holidays in Austria.
"Yes we are going to Austria for holidays and we are looking forward to it."
Another reminded everyone of the Olympic spirit. "Yes that is very nice but what is even nicer is that we can travel and we can join in and be together with people from all over the world."
The Turin Olympics have been Austria's most successful games in terms of gold medals. But their success has been overshadowed by a doping scandal which hogged the headlines during some of their most powerful wins.
Biathlon director Markus Gandler - who spent several hours at Sestriere police station helping the Carabinieri in their investigations - even asked for a re-run of two biathlon races after Autria's athletes were taken to Sestriere for doping tests.
All 10 athletes tested negative.
One fan who braved the snow and the cold and the wind said Germany may have more medals but proportionately Austria was simply stronger.
"We have 19 medals and German well has more than us but when you consider how large Germany is then we are better than them," she said.
Before Austria's three medal win at the men's slalom race on Saturday (February 25), it was running neck and neck in the gold medal count with the United States.
It also holds 23 medals in total and the US Olympic Committee porudly says it has performed overall better than expected.
Yet there were major dissapointments for the United States in the alpine ski with only two gold medal winsin Ted Ligety's and Julia Mancuso.
Lindsey Kildow, America's best hope of a medal in the speed races, suffered an ugly crash in trainng for the downhill at the start of the races and finished sventh in the super-G.
Older skiers have done badley.
Favourite Bode Miller barely finished his races. Plagued by media reports of late drinking in bars like this one he came sutxth in the slalom and missed out on the podium for all five alpine competitions. Ligety and Rhalves faired even worse in the slalom skiing out in the first leg.
Rhalves has also walked out of the Olympics without a medal.
"I think they are doing a really good job. They are close, you know, they've been close every time. You can only base it on one day so. Hockey, I ddin't watch any hockey. Personally I was hoping they would be doing a little better but, there is a lot of good, tough competition," Tom Corrigan said, in Sestriere to support a competing US skier.
"Everyone knows you're the best for that one race but really, for skiing, its the world championships at the end. If you win that then if you are involved in skiing then you know you are the best in the world. At the end of the year when you rank higher than any body else that's when you know you are the best," said Gary Cook, a fomer competitor supporting his sister Stacey Cook at this year's Winter Olymics.
Last but not least, Russia has soared up in the medals table which with imperssive wins in the biathlong and skating competitions.
One more day and we will find out the final most powerful Olympic nation for the 2006 Winter Games.
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