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Winter Olympics: Ice shavings

Bemoaning loss of 'everyman'

The last time the Winter Games were in Canada — 1988, Calgary — American businessman George Fitch assembled the Jamaican bobsled team, a hobbin', bobbin', T-shirt-sellin' crew that became a sensation and a Disney movie.

"People… saw this was good, this was what the Games were all about," Fitch told the Los Angeles Times.

But the International Olympic Committee thought Calgary went a little too far in the oddity department. It also had "Eddie the Eagle," the klutzy British ski jumper, and a Mexican cross-country skier who fell so far behind that worried officials gathered a search party.

Eager to protect the integrity of its brand, IOC enacted stricter qualifying standards. And Fitch and others are left to wonder: Have the Games lost some of their charm?

Not that Vancouver doesn't have its share of unusual or inspiring stories. There's the first Winter Olympian from Ghana, Alpine skier Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong; Canadian cross-country skier Brian McKeever, who is legally blind (see more on him, right); and 48-year-old Argentine Clyde Alejandro Getty competing in youth-mad freestyle skiing.

All have qualified under the so-called "Eddie the Eagle" rule. They have spent years proving themselves on the international circuit.

"I don't think Eddie or the Jamaicans were part of anybody's master plan," said John Hoberman, a University of Texas professor who has written extensively about sport. "These things happen by accident."

Hockey, hits and headaches

When Canada's best female hockey player put an opponent in a headlock after being hit, the country did a collective mouth drop. Because the hitting opponent was a teenage boy in a game in the Alberta Midget Hockey League.

Then the opinions started flying: Why was the woman — four-time Olympian Hayley Wicken­heiser, 31 — grabbing the boy? Why did the boy — Dane Phaneuf, brother of Maple Leafs tough guy Dion Phaneuf — hit her in a game that was supposed to be no-checking? He's lucky she didn't beat him down. Why do women even play hockey? (As for the last one, some people appear to have limits as to how much hockey is part of Canada's national identity.)

"It was really blown out of proportion up here," Wickenheiser said. "But I'd had enough, and that hit in particular got to me. He was taking liberties, and their whole team had been talking."

Since women's hockey entered the Olympics in 1998, the Canadians have prepared with regular games against boys teams. Canada has won a silver and two golds and is the defending champion.

Aussies get to keep their kangaroo flag flying

Australians in the athletes village won't have to take down their giant boxing kangaroo flag. Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates said a deal was reached Sunday with the International Olympic Committee. The green and gold flag, which depicts a red-gloved cartoon kangaroo, has been hanging from a balcony as a team mascot. The Australians had been under pressure to take it down because it was deemed too commercial and a registered trademark. The flag must be registered with the IOC for future Games.

If only Gilbert Arenas had played hockey

If you've ever wondered exactly why Canadians are nuts about hockey, the Edmonton Journal has compiled 17 reasons (one for each day of the Games) to help you understand. Among them are the penalty box, shootout moves, pulling the goalie, flipping the puck to the ref and this:

"No guns, no ambushes. No hockey player has been caught with guns in his locker or shot himself in the leg at a nightclub. In hockey, your only weapon is the one you hold in your hands during games."

Compiled from wire reports

Ask us: Have a question about the Winter Olympics? E-mail us at sptsnews@sptimes.com and we'll do our best to answer it.

Canadian cross-country skier Brian McKeever bears a passing resemblance to Wolverine actor Hugh Jackman, a comparison helped by his Wolverine-like sideburns. But no one is talking to him about the X-Man influence. They're focusing on McKeever being the first Paralympian to make the Winter Games.

"Other people will make that an issue," said McKeever, 30, who is legally blind and a three-time Paralympian, including this year. "It will be media-driven and public-driven on whether or not this is supposed to be significant. What's significant for me is that I have achieved a goal that I set out a long time ago."

McKeever, a seven-time Paralympic medalist, has Stargardt's disease, a genetic condition that affects the cells underneath the retina. There is no treatment for it. McKeever, declared blind at 18, has 10 percent vision that is limited to peripheral.

Number of the day

5 Athletes who have competed in the Summer Olympics and Paralympics: South African swimmer Natalie du Toit (amputee), American runner Marla Runyan (visually impaired), Polish table tennis player Natalia Partyka (born without right hand and forearm), Italian archer Paola Fantato (polio) and New Zealand archer Neroli Susan Fairhall (paraplegic).

Fast facts

When: Friday-Feb. 28

Opening ceremony: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Ch. 8

On the Web: Visit our special Games site at sports.tampabay.com for up-to-the-minute news leading up to and throughout the Games, plus other features.

Fast facts

Winter Olympics

When/where: Friday-Feb. 28, Vancouver

Opening ceremony: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Ch. 8

On the Web: Visit our special Games site at sports.tampabay.com.

Winter Olympics: Ice shavings 02/07/10 [Last modified: Sunday, February 7, 2010 11:00pm]

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