U.S. team checks into Olympic digs

Posted: Wednesday, February 06, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY -- Figure skater Todd Eldredge and his American teammates needed an extra 10 minutes to get through security at the Olympic Village.

Inspectors double-checked passes and dug through bags, but none of the athletes complained.

After all, these are the Olympics. They're thrilled just to be here.

''I'm sure there are other things they're doing that we don't even know about,'' Eldredge said Tuesday as the U.S. team arrived for the games. ''It makes you feel safe.''

After the team checked into the village 60 athletes participated in a 20-minute ceremony that featured songs by a high school choir, the raising of the Stars and Stripes and a Native American dance ceremony.

''They were great, to see those guys and know that's part of our culture here,'' Eldredge said, referring to the dancers dressed in feathered ceremonial garb. ''But I don't think I could wear that on the ice.''

The United States has 211 athletes entered in the Olympics. Among those who donned the powder-blue uniforms for Tuesday's ceremony was short-track speedskater Apolo Ohno, projected to win up to four gold medals.

Also in attendance were short-track speedskater Rusty Smith, Eldredge and fellow figure skater Tim Goebel, skeleton racers Jim Shea and Chris Soule, and several members of the luge team.

The American team filed in from the residential side of the village into the so-called international zone, site of shops and boutiques and a signpost that has arrows pointing to distant places like Park City, Greenland, Idaho and Japan.

The residential side was described as a place where camaraderie runs high and friends are easy to make.

''People kept asking me last week in Colorado Springs if I was excited about the Olympics,'' Goebel said. ''I told them no, because it was just training. But now it feels more real to me.''

The Americans were welcomed by Village Mayor Spencer Eccles, a Salt Lake City banker, and Natalie Williams, who grew up in suburban Salt Lake City and played on the women's gold-medal basketball team at the Sydney Olympics.

''We wish you the best of luck, and bring home the bacon,'' Eccles said.

Oh, yeah, the bacon.

The USOC has set a goal of 20 medals in Salt Lake City. If the athletes deliver, that would be seven more than the best performance by the United States at the Winter Games.

''It's a goal, and one that's not easily achieved at the Olympics,'' U.S. team leader Dwight Bell said. ''If we win 18 medals, are we going to be disappointed? No. If we exceed our previous best of 13, that would be quite an accomplishment.''



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