WINTRY MIX: Italian women's weakness could spur rules change

Updated: February 24, 2006, 12:05 PM ET
Associated Press

TURIN, Italy - The International Ice Hockey Federation wants to prevent a repeat of the lopsided losses the Italian women's hockey team suffered in these Olympics.

IIHF President Rene Fasel said Friday that future Olympic hosts will not get automatic entry into the women's hockey tournament.

Team Italy, ranked among the worst women's hockey teams in the world, lost its first three games by a combined score of 32-1, including a record 16-0 loss to Canada.

"We will change our regulation that they (the host country) have to be in the top 10 (in the world rankings) to participate and if they're not, they have to qualify," Fasel said Friday.

The change would not affect Canada, which hosts the 2010 Games in Vancouver; the Canadian women are favorites to win the gold medal in Torino. The change also would not apply to the men's hockey tournament.

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SECURITY CHECK: The first week of the Olympics has gone by without any major security problems, said officials who gave satisfactory marks to measures taken to protect the games.

"The balance of the first eight days of activity is definitely positive," Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said Friday, adding that there were no specific terrorist threats against the games but that "we are not letting our guard down."

The minister credited law enforcement officials with keeping street crime at pre-Olympic levels despite Torino's increased population. He also said police had prevented several protests by anarchists and far-left extremists, including a plan by 500 people last week to use chains to block the torch relay through Torino's streets.

"The Italian model of dealing with large events is working well," Pisanu said, briefing reporters after meeting local security officials in Torino.

Security measures for the Olympics include more than 15,000 police officers and soldiers and constant support from national and international intelligence. NATO is providing two AWACS surveillance planes to patrol over northern Italy during the games.

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MAN OF MANY LETTERS: There are plenty of big-name athletes at the Torino Olympics.

And then there's Finland's curling skip.

Markku Uusipaavalniemi, the bespectacled veteran competing in his second Winter Games, gave his team's medal hopes a boost Friday morning with a pair of key early takeouts in an 11-4 win over Sweden. Finland then beat Canada 8-7 to move into a three-way tie for second place - the top four teams advance to the medal round.

"If we would have lost this game, it would have been really, really tough to make it to playoffs," Uusipaavalniemi said after the morning win. "Now we have a much better chance."

Uusipaavalniemi, 39, has been curling for Finland since 1985. Most fans take a shortcut with his name, calling him U-15.

Uusipaavalniemi actually gave up curling for a couple years in the early 1990s and took up diving, becoming one of Finland's best at that sport.

He trained off and on in the United States for a couple years, but a broken eardrum slowed his progress and he ended up back on the curling sheet.

"It's a really interesting game," he said. "I still like it."

And for the record, his name is pronounced OOH-see-PAH-val-nee-ah-me.

"That's easy enough," he said with a laugh.

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LIVING LARGE: The prime minister called. They are on the front of La Gazzetta dello Sport. What more can an Italian speedskater ask for?

Italy on Friday celebrated the unlikely gold of its pursuit team, after they faced the toughest opposition possible - the United States, the Netherlands and Canada - over two days and came away victorious. It was one of the biggest upsets of the Torino Games so far.

"Azzurri Miracle on skates," headlined the Gazzetta dello Sport on a front page usually reserved for soccer and cycling.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi phoned to offer his congratulations, and asked skater Enrico Fabris the secret of their victory. "We went faster than the others," Fabris said.

"How fast do you go?" asked Berlusconi.

"At 50 (kilometers) per hour, without a motor," Fabris responded.

"It helps a lot to skate at home," said Fabris, who won a bronze medal in the 5,000 before leading the Italians to their first gold medal in Olympic speedskating, ending 82 years of Olympic futility.

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WHAT'S SKELETON, MATE? Australian skeleton racer Michelle Steele doesn't expect to make many waves back home, where cricket and rugby rule.

"Half the people in my country have never even heard of this sport before," Steele said after placing 13th in the women's medal competition Thursday.

Being well off the medal stand prevented the sort of Winter Games mixup that happened earlier this week, when Dale Begg-Smith, the gold medal winner in men's moguls, was initially credited as an Austrian, not an Australian.

Steele is unsure what kind of notice her Winter Games appearance will earn her back home in Queensland. She's been overseas training for the last six months and when she is home, spends most of her time on sand, not ice.

"I was doing surf lifesaving back home, which is beach sprinting, board and surfing," she said. "It helps for skeleton, because when you are running in the sand you have to be very powerful."

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SHOPPING, TV STYLE: Shopping in Sestriere with comic actor Tom Green? USA-1 bobsled driver Todd Hays thought that was asking for trouble.

"I was a little scared of Tom, to tell you the truth," Hays said. "He's too unpredictable for me. I don't want to find myself in an Italian prison somewhere, wondering what the hell was I thinking hanging out with Tom Green."

That left bobsled teammates Brock Kreitzburg, Curt Tomasevicz and 2002 Olympic silver medalist Bill Schuffenhauer to accompany Green for a segment scheduled to air Monday night on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

The idea was to see how much free stuff Green could load onto the American trio. Hays said he heard the bit was hilarious.

It's been a week of much hilarity among the U.S. bobsledders. Kreitzburg and U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation public relations director Tom LaDue both celebrated 30th birthdays in Torino.

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ETHIOPIA'S DEBUT: Moments after making history, Robel Teklemariam had his sights set on the next Winter Olympics.

Teklemariam, 31, became the first Ethiopian to compete in the Winter Games when he finished 84th in the 15-kilometer classical style race Friday in tough, snowy conditions.

"I would have finished this race even if I had to crawl on my knees," he said.

Teklemariam finished ahead of skiers from Thailand, Costa Rica, Nepal, Portugal, Brazil, Kenya, Iran, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Armenia, Ireland, Argentina, Mongolia and Macedonia.

Then again, Teklemariam is no skiing novice - he's been skiing and training for 19 years, since immigrating from Ethiopia to the United States as a child.

"I was really excited and nervous," he said. "This is what I've been waiting for. Now that it's done, I feel really good."

Teklemariam's Olympic debut was not without controversy. He failed a blood test and was suspended five days for excessive hemoglobin levels. He blamed dehydration.

"It wasn't something I was too aware of," he said. "It was definitely a surprise."

Teklemariam, who lived in New York City, then Lake Placid, N.Y., as a child, now teaches skiing and snowboarding in Crested Butte, Colo.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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