Olympic-size tour of Turin

The opening ceremonies for the only true worldwide sports competition will begin in Torino, Italy on Friday. The 2006 version of the Winter Olympics will finally begin after the ceremonial lighting of the Olympic Torch, which is planned to have 10,001 bearers and travel through 140 cities by the time of the ceremony. Italy previously hosted the Winter Olympics in 1956, when the Soviet Union made their debut and left Italy with the most medals of any country.

Coverage for the 2006 Olympics in Torino will be much more extensive than previous years. While NBC will be the primary source for Olympic coverage, numerous networks are providing some help, including NBC Universal, USA, MSNBC, NBC HD, CNBC and Universal HD. These networks will combine for a total of 416 hours of Olympic coverage, which exceeds the 375.5 hours for the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

The United States team will attempt to rebound after losing in the total medal count in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Germany accumulated 36 medals, including 12 gold medals, in the 2002 Winter Olympics. The United States had two fewer total medals with 34, which also included two fewer gold medals with 10. This year the United States’ athletes feel confidant that they can overcome the Germans and every other country that stands in their path to obtain the most medals of any country.

Bode Miller is an incredibly talented downhill skier, but that isn’t the reason that he is definitely the most prominent topic of interest. Instead it is for the comments that he made on “60 Minutes” regarding drinking and skiing. Fans and fellow skiers were outraged after Miller said that there have been many times when he has been drunk before the beginning of Alpine Skiing’s fastest and most dangerous event.

Miller has since apologized for the comments that he made during his “60 Minutes” interview and hopes that he can put this whole situation behind him and just ski. However, many will certainly tune in to witness Miller’s performance in the Men’s Downhill that begins on Sunday, Feb. 12.

In the Men’s Downhill event the United States’ best chance in receiving a medal rests in the hands of the reigning World Cup overall champion Miller and Daron Rahlves. The international field features Austria’s dynamic duo; the reigning World Cup downhill champion Michael Walchhofer and Salt Lake’s gold medalist Fritz Strobl. In the Downhill competition in the 2002 Olympics the U.S. was left without a place on the podium due to an international sweep. Miller and Rahlves will attempt to change that this year.

One of the less traditional events in the Winter Olympics is the Biathlon. The Biathlon is comprised of a bizarre combination of cross country skiing and rifle shooting. Upwards of 80 competitors participate in this event at a time. Each competitor must race using their skis, then suddenly switch their focus and display their marksmanship using a .22 caliber rifle. This event consists of 10 medal events and five different variations: individual, pursuit, mass start, sprint and relay. A couple biathletes to watch are winner of four gold medals in 2002 Ole Einar Bjorndalen from Norway on the men’s side and current World Cup leader Kati Wilhelm of Germany of the women.

Olympic figure skating seems to be both the favorite and most controversial sport of all at the Olympic Games. Irina Slutskaya of Russia is the favorite for the ladies’ field after winning silver in Salt Lake and winning the 2005 World Championships in Moscow. However, Slutskaya may experience some difficulties because of the fact that the favorite sometimes falters under pressure in figure skating. For example, Michelle Kwan was favored to win gold in both 1998 and 2002 but failed to meet the lofty expectations in either year. Slutskaya may be the favorite coming into the games but there is an impressive list of contenders to steal the show and win gold.

Russia’s Yevgeny Plushenko is the obvious favorite to win gold for the men but after winning a silver medal in Salt Lake he still needs to prove that he is capable of winning gold. Plushenko is a three-time world champion and is considered a very exciting and compelling skater to watch. Stephane Lambiel appears to be the biggest threat to Plushenko’s bid for the gold. He won the 2005 World Championships in Moscow and is known as a consistent skater with the ability to execute extremely fast spins. Jeffery Buttle from Canada is another contestant that could win it all, being deemed the most artistic and sophisticated skater in the competition.

Many feel that the hockey outcome has already been decided. Canada is the defending champion and the favorite coming into the Olympics. The Canadian team is experienced to say the least, with no fewer than six team captains on their team and 18 returning players from the World Cup of Hockey and 10 from the Salt Lake games. Joe Sakic is considered the team’s leader, and young stud Danny Heatly will also be depended on to contribute some points with the excellent play that has him in sixth place in the NHL in scoring.

The United States has a questionable roster that could either make them moderately successful or awfully unsuccessful. Their roster is comprised of younger players that aren’t quite playing in their prime and older players that have clearly passed their prime years ago. With a lack of adequate players, especially with youngster Rick DePietro between the pipes, the Americans are going to have trouble finding their way to the finals. A team that many believe will not have quite as much difficulty getting to the finals is Sweden. Many experts believe that the Canadians and the Swedes will face off in the Olympic finals.

Another interesting story that has surfaced in the weeks leading up to the Olympics is in regards to speed skating great and former gold medalist Chris Witty. Apparently Witty was the victim of sexual abuse by a family friend beginning when she was only four years old. Witty never told anyone what transpired when she was a child, not even her immediate family.

Winning the Olympic gold in the 1,000 meter four years ago must have given Witty the strength to tell her secret because shortly after the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake she notified her family and friends of her unforgettable past experience. This year Witty isn’t a medal favorite, which is the same prediction that she had in 2002 when she persevered and walked away victorious with the gold medal hanging from her neck.

Every year the Olympics provide excitement and a competitive nature for countries all around the globe, and this year shouldn’t be any different. Athletes train for months to even receive an opportunity to participate in the Olympic Games, so they certainly give their best effort not only to obtain a medal at the culmination of their respective event but also for the pride of their country. This alone makes the Olympics a spectacle to watch every two years.