WINTRY MIX: Out of medal contention, an emotional long program for Fontana

Updated: February 24, 2006, 11:52 AM ET
Associated Press

TURIN, Italy -- Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan is in Turin picking up pointers on organizing a Winter Olympics -- and educating a few folks about what a quadriplegic can accomplish.

On Sunday, at the closing ceremony, Sullivan formally will receive the Olympic flag from the mayor of Turin and take it to Vancouver, the site of the next Winter Games in 2010.

The 46-year-old Sullivan broke his neck in a skiing accident when he was 19 and has no use of his legs, fingers or hands. He retains movement in his biceps, allowing him to move his arms to operate his electric wheelchair.

"Becoming a quadriplegic was really, really difficult. It took me seven years of depression and difficulties. Eventually I came through and decided I was going to focus on making my life better, and the lives of others," Sullivan told The Associated Press on Friday.

"Some people do consider disability as a tragedy. I look at it as a career move."

The Olympic organizers have developed a special winch to get Sullivan onto the stage at the closing ceremony, and engineers in Vancouver have created an attachment for his wheelchair -- emblazoned with the arms of the city -- into which the huge Olympic flag will be placed by IOC president Jacques Rogge.

Sullivan then intends to make the flag flutter by zipping back and forth across the stage -- a move he has been practicing in the parking lots of Vancouver.

"I probably should have been running the city," he mused.

While in Turin, he has been extolling the virtues of his Canadian city.

"We had thousands of people working hard in Vancouver to make our Olympic bid successful, and we will have thousands more working on the games. I am very aware that I am representing them," he said.

Sullivan is co-inventor of a vehicle that allows disabled people to go on hiking and camping trips. His widespread work for disabled people has included setting up a series of associations to help people live independent lives.

A classical pianist and keyboard player before his accident, Sullivan also formed a rock group of disabled musicians, "Spinal Chord," and created an association for disabled gardeners.

His work earned him the Order of Canada -- the country's highest honor -- in 2005.

Sullivan was elected in November after 12 years as a city councilor. His term expires in 2009, meaning he may not be mayor of Vancouver when the games come to the city of 2 million.

"I recognize that the citizens determine that, and I will accept their will," he said.<

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STREAKING SIGHT:@ Maybe curling has hit the big time -- the men's bronze medal match Friday was interrupted by a streaker.

Midway through the United States' 8-6 win over Britain, a man wearing what appeared to be a strategically placed rubber chicken ran onto one of the covered sheets of ice not being used in that session. He danced around for a bit but never tried to approach any of the players.

Curlers probably feel a little safer than most athletes -- it's hard for intruders to run across ice, especially if they're naked. American John Shuster said he never felt in danger.

"Olympic security's been amazing here," he said. "We weren't worried at all."

A couple of security officials from the venue hovered near the streaker for several seconds before finally covering him and leading him away.<

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^CANDIDATES FOR 2014:@ Russia and Austria, two countries touched by doping scandals at the Turin Olympics, also are contenders to host the 2014 Winter Games, with Sochi and Salzburg among seven cities vying for the honor.

Russian officials who gave their presentation Friday promoting the bid for the Black Sea resort of Sochi said they believe the International Olympic Committee will not be swayed by the Austrian scandal.

Six Austrian cross-country skiers and four biathletes were rousted from their private living quarters Feb. 18 for unannounced drug tests. At the same time, Italian police raided the lodgings and seized blood transfusion equipment and other materials linked to disgraced coach Walter Mayer.

Russian biathlon star Olga Pyleva was kicked out of the games last week and stripped of a silver medal after a drug test revealed a banned stimulant.

"Austria has a very good bid, and indeed Austria and Salzburg are ready for the Winter Olympic Games," said Russian Olympic Committee president Leonid Tyagachev. "But what happened to the team in the medical context, it will all be discussed after the Olympic Games."

The Russians also played down any security risk because of Sochi's proximity to the war-torn region of Chechnya, across the Caucasus Mountains.

Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov said millions of Russians take vacations in Sochi and the city regularly holds international events, "and we never had any incidents linked with terrorism."

President Vladimir Putin has a summer home in Sochi, Zhukov noted.

"Sochi is surrounded by the mountains," added Vitaly Smirnov, a Russian IOC member. "It's like a horseshoe -- great mountains covered with snow, very easy to protect. It's an absolutely safe city.

Other candidates for 2014 are: Almaty, Kazakhstan; Borjomi, Georgia; Jaca, Spain; Pyeongchang, South Korea, and Sofia, Bulgaria. The IOC will reduce the field in June and make its final choice in 2007.<

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^HISTORIC CHASE:@ Speedskater Claudia Pechstein is one race from Olympic history, if her health holds up.

The German, who turned 34 on Wednesday, could become the first Winter Olympian to win the same event four straight times if she outskates everyone in Saturday's grueling 5,000 meters.

Pechstein already has a gold from the inaugural team pursuit event last week, but finished a disappointing fifth in the 3,000, her coughing and wheezing after the race a clear indication of her ailing health.

"I am not 100 percent fit, but I will give it my all," she said.

She will need to be at her best to hold off Canada's Cindy Klassen, the winner of gold in the 1,500, silver medalist in the 1,000 and team pursuit and bronze medalist in the 3,000.

Those medals have taken the pressure off Klassen -- and that makes her more of a danger.

"The more relaxed I am, the better I skate," she said.

Pechstein, a former East German, has quite a collection of Olympic hardware: four gold medals, one silver and two bronze. In 2002, she won the 3,000 and 5,000.

Pechstein should be the clear favorite for the 5,000, but she pulled out of the 1,500 with breathing problems and now it's anybody's guess who will win.<

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^OLYMPIC FEVER:@ The Winter Olympics might have been a hard sell in a country crazy for soccer, but Italians finally warmed up to the hometown games. The games are grabbing headlines and TV ratings are going way up.

"Have Italians suddenly fallen in love with skates and sequins?" wondered Rome daily La Repubblica on Thursday, one of several articles in the Italian media devoted to the country's Olympic fever.

On Tuesday night, 10 million people -- or 48 percent of TV viewers -- watched Italian figure skater Carolina Kostner fall on her combination jump during a disappointing performance that placed her 11th.

With Champions League soccer play resuming that same evening, the result was all the more impressive.

Earlier that day, some 4 million people watched as Italian Enrico Fabris won the gold medal in men's 1,500-meter speedskating -- until now a virtually unknown sport in Italy.

The unexpected ratings delighted state-run TV RAI, which has designated one of its three channels to Olympic coverage. The ratings might jump even more when Italian hero Giorgio Rocca competes in the slalom on Saturday.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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