ROAD TO TURIN
Capsules of sports for the Turin Winter Games:
Who's hot: Benjamin Raich has come out of a lull to take the lead in the World Cup overall standings, winning the last two giant slaloms before the Olympics and finishing third in the Adelboden slalom. American Daron Rahlves, who had an unexpected stint as overall leader after winning the grueling Bormio downhill, has also had success in super-G and giant slalom. Slalom specialist Giorgio Rocca of Italy has won all four races in that discipline. Triple Olympic champion Janica Kostelic leads the women's overall standings, with Anja Paerson of Sweden right behind. American Lindsey Kildow leads the downhill rankings after winning two of three races. Who's not: Despite challenging for the top of the overall standings, reigning champion Bode Miller has just one win and three other top-three finishes this season. At this point last year, he had accumulated six victories and four other top-three results. Two-time Nagano Olympics gold medalist Hermann Maier of Austria won the season-opening World Cup giant slalom but has cracked the top five only once since then. Renate Goetschl of Austria -- reigning women's World Cup downhill champion and winner of two Olympic medals in 2002 -- has only one top-10 finish this season. Upcoming events: The World Cup circuit remains in Europe until the start of the Olympics.
Who's hot: Most of the Russians, particularly Irina Slutskaya, who has been nearly unbeatable since missing much of the 2003-04 season with a heart ailment. Mao Asada has been the season's top skater, but at 15 the Japanese girl is too young to go to the Olympics. American dancers Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto have an excellent shot at a medal now that she is eligible as a U.S. citizen. Who's not: Michelle Kwan missed the entire Grand Prix season with an injury, then another injury forced her out of the U.S. championships. While the Russians might be favored to win all four golds, there isn't a lot of depth on their team.
Who's hot: NHL goal-scoring leader lIya Kovalchuk is in one of his familiar you-can't-stop-me bursts that Russia can only hope he takes into the Olympics, with 10 goals and six assists in his first six games this month for the Atlanta Thrashers. In women's play, Canada beat the United States in eight of 10 meetings leading up to Turin though the Americans won two of the last four. Who's not: Russia gambled by choosing teenage forward Evgeni Malkin for its Olympic team, something Canada would not do with NHL rookie star Sidney Crosby -- but he was neutralized by Canada in the recent world junior championships. G John Grahame, expected to be Team USA's starter, has lost six of his last eight starts for 2004 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay. Finland, a bronze favorite among the women, lost four straight to the U.S. over five days in December. The gap is closing internationally, but nobody expects the world to challenge the U.S. and Canadian women's teams. Upcoming events: Canada coach Pat Quinn's Toronto Maple Leafs play the Jaromir Jagr-Ied New York Rangers in a back-to-back series Friday and Saturday, immediately before the Olympic break. Think Quinn might be watching Jagr more closely than normal? Jagr's Czech team is in Canada's Olympic pool, and the teams play Feb. 21.
Who's hot: Sandra Kiriasis of Germany is the women's gold-medal favorite after winning the season's first four events. American drivers Shauna Rohbock and Jean Prahm also are strong medal hopefuls; Prahm is sliding with 2002 gold medalist Vonetta Flowers this season. Among the men, American Todd Hays leads the World Cup standings after placing second at Cortina in the two-man event and winning the four-man event. Hays has 600 points, with Germany's Andre Lange second with 578. Who's not: Jill Bakken, who drove with Flowers to a gold medal in Salt Lake City, probably isn't going to be part of the U.S. women's delegation for the Turin Games. Longtime German great Susi Erdmann has only medaled in one of the first four World Cup stops this season. Canada's top men's driver, Pierre Lueders, is awaiting word whether his brakeman, Jamaican native Lascelles Brown, will have Canadian citizenship issues resolved in time for the Olympics. American Mike Kohn is struggling in 15th place. Upcoming events: The World Cup circuit is in Europe through the Olympics.
Who's hot: Switzerland's Gregor Staehli won two of the season's first four World Cup men's races, but Canada's Jeff Pain won in Latvia in the final race before the three-week holiday break and is showing signs he's peaking at the right time. American Eric Bernotas -- winner at Lake Placid earlier in the season -- is fourth overall. Canada's Mellisa Hollingsworth-Richards and Switzerland's Maya Pedersen have eight medals combined from this season's first four women's World Cup stops. American Katie Uhlaender is having her best season in third place overall, while Canada's Lindsay Alcock is fourth. Who's not: American Zach Lund, the World Cup men's overall leader and Olympic gold-medal favorite, has been temporarily barred from racing because a drug test showed a masking agent in Calgary earlier this season. The positive test was triggered by usage of the hair restoration drug Finasteride. Meanwhile, the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation placed coach Tim Nardiello on paid administrative leave Dec. 31 because of two sexual harassment allegations.
Who's hot: American Tony Benshoof has remained one of the top sliders on the World Cup circuit, winning four silvers and a bronze in five events. Benshoof, a disappointing 17th four years ago at Salt Lake City, set the Olympic track record at Cesana Pariol in November during an event won by Italy's Armin Zoeggeler, the defending Olympic champ and current points leader. The U.S. doubles team of Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin sat out last weekend's event in Koenigssee, Germany, as Grimmette continues to recover from back spasms. The pair is ranked ninth. Germany rolls on in women's luge, winning the last 62 World Cup events in a row. Who's not: Three-time Olympic gold medalist Georg Hackl of Germany skipped last month's event in Lake Placid, N.Y., to train and recover from offseason back surgery and an arm injury. He finished third at last week's event, behind Zoeggeler and Benshoof.
Who's hot: Jakub Janda of the Czech Republic won at Garmisch-Partenkirchen on Jan. 1 for his fifth World Cup victory of the season. Janda leads the overall World Cup standings with 872 points.
Finland's Janne Ahonen, who won last season's overall World Cup title, is second in the standings with 755 points. Who's not: Poland's Adam Malysz. The three-time World Cup champion has not finished higher than fifth this season and is 10th overall in the standings with 270 points. Finland's Matti Hautamaeki finished third at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, but was 15th in the next two events and is in 13th place overall with 218 points.
CROSS COUNTRY SKIING
Who's hot: Germany's Tobias Angerer leads the World Cup standings. Bjoern Lind of Sweden has avoided illness this season and done his full training, which is leading to good results, including a pair of World Cup sprint wins. Among the women, there remains hype around Canadian Beckie Scott, the 2002 Olympic pursuit champion who is skiing at her best after winning five medals -- two golds -- in two World Cups in Canada last month. She is fourth in the overall standings. Who's not: Russia's Julija Tchepalova was in second place in the World Cup standings this week, but 125 points behind leader Marit Bjoergen of Norway. Tchepalova finished a disappointing 16th in a sprint race in Nove Mesto on Dec. 30 that was won by her teammate, Alena Sidko.
Who's hot: Hannu Manninen of Finland, the defending World Cup champion, won five of the first nine events this season, building a 202-point lead over Ronny Ackermann of Germany, who had not won an event but consistently scored high in the points. Norway's Magnus Moan and Petter Tande, with one win each, were close behind Ackermann. Who's not: Todd Lodwick, the top American in the World Cup standings, was in 11th place with three events remaining before the Olympics.
Who's hot: Americans Chad Hedrick and Shani Davis have been brilliant this year. Davis set a world record at 1,000 meters and held the 1,500 mark until Hedrick snatched it away at Salt Lake City in November. Last month on the same rink, Hedrick reclaimed the world record in the 10,000 at the U.S. national championships. Hedrick plans to skate five events in Turin, giving him a chance to equal Eric Heiden's record of five gold medals in a Winter Games. On the women's side, Canada's Cindy Klassen will be favored for gold at 1,500 and 3,000 after setting world records at both distances in November. Germany's Anni Friesinger and Jennifer Rodriguez of the U.S. also will be strong medal contenders. Who's not: Derek Parra, who won gold and silver medals at the Salt Lake City Games, has been going through a painful divorce and struggled to make the U.S. team. At least he's going to Turin; defending Olympic champions Jochem Uytdehaage and Gerard van Velde failed to qualify for the Dutch team.
Who's hot: As usual, the South Koreans and Chinese figure to bring the strongest teams. Jin Su'nyu and Ahn Hyun-soo, both of South Korea, were overall champions on the World Cup circuit. The Chinese counter with Meng Wang, Yang Yang (A) and JiaJun Li. Apolo Anton Ohno, the American darling of the Salt Lake City Olympics, is poised to match or surpass the two medals (one gold, one silver) he won in 2002. Kim Hyo-jung is a rising star for the American women, but the 17-year-old Korean native hasn't proven herself on the international stage. Who's not: Except for Ohno, just about everyone from North America and Europe has struggled to keep up with the Asian powers. Shani Davis failed in his bid to become the first American to make both the long and short track teams for the same Olympics. He finished sixth at the U.S. championships last month and will have to settle for long track in Turin.
Who's hot: Canada. The women's team skipped by Shannon Kleibrink beat the Americans, led by Cassie Johnson, 11-4 in an exhibition at the Canadian Open. More than 5,000 fans watched Jeff Stoughton's rink win the event, and that's not even Canada's best; Stoughton's squad was edged by Brad Gushue's 8-7 in the Canadian curling trials last month for the right to go to Turin. Who's not: Team Fenson, the U.S. men's Olympic rink, finished 1-3 in Winnipeg, losing to Gushue and two other Canadian squads. The Norwegian team led by Paal Trulsen, which won the Olympic gold medal in 2002, also finished 1-3 and out of the running.
Who's hot: In more ways than one: Rachel Steer of Anchorage, who won the women's sprint to finish first in the Olympic trials in Maine earlier this month. The 27-year-old felt she didn't even need to be there. The USA's best female biathlete had five top-20 World Cup finishes last season but didn't prequalify for the Olympic team because of criteria she termed ridiculous. Who's not: Alexander Wolf of Germany, who finished 12th after five missed shots in the season's first men's World Cup 15-kilometer mass start race this month. Still, he retained his lead in the overall World Cup standings with 288 points.
Who's hot: It's still Jeremy Bloom. The moguls skier-slash-football player wrapped up his spot on the Olympic team by winning Olympic trials last month in Steamboat Springs. A week later, he finished second to Canadian Alexandre Bilodeau at a World Cup event in Canada. Probably only three men will make the U.S. moguls team, which means someone among the world's top 10 -- Travis Mayer, Toby Dawson, Travis Cabral or Nate Roberts -- could be left home. Who's not: Eric Bergoust, once the best aerialist in the world, fell on both his jumps at the Olympic trials and finished 21 st in Canada last week. He's fortunate to have a second-place World Cup finish already under his belt, which pretty much puts him on the team. Olympic trials winner Ryan St. Onge finished 20th in the Canada event.
Who's hot: Shaun White, who has won all three Grand Prix Olympic qualifying events this season. Gretchen Bleiler has won twice on the women's side and Hannah Teter is looking good, too. Swiss' racer Phillip Schoch, the gold medalist in 2002, and his brother, Simon, are ranked 1-2 in World Cup standings in parallel giant slalom. Who's not: Lindsey Jacobellis wants to make the team either on the halfpipe or in snowboardcross, but she hasn't finished higher than fourth in any event that's mattered since December. Racer Chris Klug, hoping to recreate his stirring bronze-medal performance in 2002 shortly after receiving a liver transplant, has finished 15th, 16th and 33rd in his last three World Cup events.