Suspensions Mark Start of 2006 Olympics
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Stefan Fatsis, of The Wall Street Journal, is in Turin as well. And he's with us to talk about Olympic events outside of the opening ceremony. Stefan, what's the big news there?
STEFAN FATSIS: Well, we've had our first performance-related developments of the games. A bunch of cross-country skiers have been suspended for five days by the International Skiing Federation because they showed elevated red blood cell counts. Now, the International Olympic Committee said that's not a drug test, not cause for special testing. But high red blood cell counts can be a result of training at high altitude or of taking blood-boosting drugs to aid endurance. Two Americans were among those suspended, but they weren't scheduled to race in the next five days.
SIEGEL: Now, the other piece of suspension news involves an American who's going to miss competition. He's a skeleton racer.
FATSIS: Yeah, Zach Lund is his name. And he was the guy who tested positive for the active ingredient in a hair restoration medication, which can also be used as a masking agent for performance drugs. He told drug officials for years that he was using it, but it was added to the official banned list of drugs, and Lund says he didn't realize that. U.S. anti-doping officials gave him a warning, but an arbitrator today said that he gets a one-year ban, and he was a possible medalist for the U.S.
SIEGEL: Overall, Stefan, your impressions of the scene in Turin as the games are just getting underway.
FATSIS: Well, for the 30 hours I've been here, I haven't seen any athletes, certainly not in action, and that's because two-thirds of the events are in the mountains, which are two or more hours away from Turin. Before the competition, there's not much else going on, so a lot of news conferences, a lot of complaints about disorganization, concerns about low ticket sales and traffic problems. I did to go to a couple of sponsor schmooze events last night. I got stuck in traffic as the Olympic torch came through the city center. It had been rerouted because of anti-globalization and other protesters downtown. But once we got there, excellent gnocchi, and once the athletes start doing what they do, the mood is going to change, no doubt.
SIEGEL: Good gnocchi, and I gather there are a lot of athletes, no shortage of them.
FATSIS: No, more than 2,600, and that's more than double compared to 1984 in Sarajevo. And the big reason for the growth has been an explosion in the number of women competing, more than 1,000 this time, compared to fewer than 200 back then. There are more events than ever. There are more nations than ever, which all sounds very impressive, but it does raise questions about how much is too much.
Turin's budget deficit is around $50 million. They're going to be stuck with these white elephant luge runs and ski jump hills. The games have lost their intimacy. When you think back to the greatest memory in the modern Olympics in the Winter Games, Lake Placid, 1980, the U.S. hockey team, every event at those games occurred within ten miles. Now you need a big city linked to a games or you just can't get it done.
SIEGEL: Now, of the various events that'll be played in these games, which are you going to be covering?
FATSIS: Well, I will not be covering Bodie Miller or Michelle Kwan. I think everyone else can do that for me. I couldn't even get in to the figure skating finals if I wanted to, because there's so much demand. I'm definitely going to check out some women's hockey, luge, biathlon, cross-county skiing, and my new favorite sport, curling. It could be my team handball of the Winter Games.
SIEGEL: It's a very quiet game, curling.
FATSIS: It is, and for excellent terminology, too. You've got your skip, you've got the rock, you've got the hog line and the button. I love this stuff.
SIEGEL: Can't wait to hear from you as you start filing on Winter Olympic curling. Stefan Fatsis, who talks with us about sports, of The Wall Street Journal. Thanks a lot for talking with us.
FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.
SIEGEL: And our coverage of the Olympics continues at NPR.org, where you can read a daily blog, see photos from Turin, and explore the history of the Winter Games. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.