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Wednesday, February 13, 2002
Flames and Flickers: Reporter learns naked truth news services

SALT LAKE CITY -- A Canadian reporter found out just how chilly it can be here when he was locked out of his hotel room wearing only his birthday suit.

Francois Gagnon, who works for the Quebec City newspaper Le Soleil, stepped from his hotel room naked early Friday to retrieve a newspaper. The door locked behind him. Using the paper to cover himself, Gagnon asked the hotel manager for help getting back in.

But the Crystal Inn management sent Gagnon packing -- with his clothing.

"It was my fault. I didn't have to lock myself out of the hotel," Gagnon said. But "I think they overreacted. That incident would have been solved in 35 seconds in Quebec. He would have laughed at me and opened the door."

Crystal Inn Manager Dave DeYoung refused to discuss the incident.

Gagnon told The Ottawa Citizen that he grabbed the newspaper, using sections of it to cover his front and back as he asked for a key to his room.

"I tried to make a little joke and said, 'I'm lucky it was a broadsheet and not a tabloid,' but they didn't laugh," Gagnon said. "I told them I had nothing to hide."

Gagnon now sleeps at Baymont Inns and Suites a few miles down the road, but he hopes to recover money he paid for the nights he won't be spending at the Inn.

Baymont assistant manager Mary Fell will handle similar incidents with a cool head -- but said she would have to ask for identification before allowing a guest into a locked room.

First, though, "I would push him into the bathroom and grab him a towel as quickly as possible. When you work in this industry, you see a lot and nothing surprises you," Fell said. "And it's not his fault ... well, it is, but it isn't. Things happen."

Gagnon hopes to show the world his best side from now on because, as he said, "I've been the joke of the games so far."

First 100 drug tests come back clean ... even the snowboarders'
SALT LAKE CITY -- Olympic snowboarders have been tested again for drugs and this time, dude, they're clean.

In stressing that there is no rerun so far of the marijuana scandal involving a Canadian snowboarder four years ago, doping officials said Wednesday that none of the first 100 urine tests among all athletes at Salt Lake City had found drugs.

"The snowboarders have competed, the snowboarders have been tested and all of the tests so far have been negative," said Doug Rollins, the doping control director for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.

Americans swept the medals in men's halfpipe, while teammate Kelly Clark took the women's halfpipe gold medal, the first competition for the sport that has a reputation for recreational drug use. Snowboard's parallel giant slalom comes up later.

At the Nagano Games, Ross Rebagliati of Canada tested positive for marijuana and was stripped of his gold medal in the parallel GS. But an arbitration panel reinstated Rebagliati as champion after ruling that athletes had not been informed of marijuana screening.

This time, marijuana is clearly on the banned list.

In addition to the usual urine samples, SLOC and the International Olympic Committee for the first time are taking blood samples from athletes in endurance sports such as cross-country skiing and speedskating on the day of their competition. The tests are designed to catch use of EPO, a hormone that can boost red blood cell counts and increase stamina.

Rollins said one of the 900 initial screenings at the venues had shown signs of an unidentified banned drug, but that further analysis at the IOC lab found no evidence of EPO or any other performance enhancer.

Caribbean can wait: Hnilicka answers country's call
SALT LAKE CITY -- Atlanta Thrashers goalie Milan Hnilicka was going to spend his Olympic break in the Caribbean. Now, he's heading to Utah.

Hnilicka got a call Wednesday asking him to join the Czech Republic team after Roman Turek of the Calgary Flames dropped out because of injury.

Even though it's a lot warmer in the Cayman Islands -- Hnilicka's original destination during the break -- he didn't balk at a chance to play for his country. He planned to board a flight Thursday morning to Salt Lake City, one day before the Czechs play their first game against Germany.

"It's a slight change in plans," Hnilicka said in a telephone interview from Atlanta. "But that's OK."

Hnilicka was a backup at the 1998 Olympics, but he didn't play as Dominik Hasek led the Czechs to a surprising gold medal. Hasek and Philadelphia's Roman Cechmanek are the team's top two goalies.

"I don't know what's going to happen," said Hnilicka, who led the Czechs to their third straight world championship last year. "I didn't expect anything, to be honest. This all came as a surprise. Obviously, it's a very pleasant surprise."

Ice man cometh to Olympic Oval
Marc Norman is the ice man at the Utah Olympic Oval. So why does he carry a fire extinguisher?

"They have CO2 (carbon dioxide) in them, which is a cold chemical that gives us a chance to freeze the damaged ice," he said.

If a skater falls and damages the surface, Norman hauls out one of the two extinguishers he has. They are most useful for the 500 and 1,000 meters, where skaters are likely to tumble because of high speeds.

"It does work, but you can also do damage if you do it wrong," he said.

Norman, manager of operations for the Olympic Oval, is a former short-track speedskater. He's been the subject of media attention for creating ice that's considered to be the world's fastest.

"It's definitely a little strange," he said. "You just put the sheet of ice out there and these guys go out there and do what they do."

IOC focuses on medical help for athletes
SALT LAKE CITY -- While it fights steroids and stimulants, the IOC also focuses on biomechanics and body weight. It's trying to find ways to help athletes improve performance without drugs.

As the Winter Games move through the first week with no drug cases so far, 43 researchers spread from ski jumps to skating rinks videotaping competitors, running the images through computers and comparing data in hopes of adding a meter here or shaving a 10th of a second there.

The program, run jointly by the International Olympic Committee and the Pfizer pharmaceutical company, has nine research projects in Salt Lake City. They include the link between figure skaters' flaws and judges' scores, the effects of weight loss on ski jumpers' performances and the impact of the menstrual cycle on athletes' success.

IOC medical director Dr. Patrick Schamasch said Wednesday that the results of the research would be shared later this year with coaches, trainers and team doctors.

"The IOC for a long time has been interested in protecting the health of the athletes," Schamasch said. "With this research, we can help improve performance in other areas without resorting to drugs."

Todd Allinger, Pfizer's Olympic research project director, said there were two "hot topics" -- quadruple jumps, the rage in men's figure skating, and hinge positions on clapskates, which have revolutionized that sport by allowing a skater to keep the blades on the ice for longer strides.

Mormon church responds to negative media coverage
SALT LAKE CITY -- A Mormon official called media coverage of the church biased and sloppy in an open letter sent Wednesday to reporters covering the 2002 Winter Games.

While most news reports from Salt Lake City have been fair, the letter said, others are "full of arrant nonsense and prejudice" and prove that Mormons are still as persecuted as they were when they fled to Utah in 1847.

Also Wednesday, the church criticized a Denver Post column mocking Mormonism and the Olympics. The piece was pulled from the paper's Web site and an apologetic column was planned for Thursday.

The letter was attributed to Alan Wakeley, director of public affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, but was originally written for a church-affiliated magazine.

Church spokesman Dale Bill said Meridian Magazine editor-in-chief Maureen Proctor gave Wakeley permission to rewrite her article "to address a few concerns he had about some media coverage in Australia and New Zealand."

The piece criticizes articles written by the Sydney Daily Telegraph and five other news outlets, including one written by The Associated Press. It accused the media of "drive-by reporting," saying reporters have focused on polygamy, which has been banned by the church for more than a century, or portrayed the church as "a vast, wealthy, clannish and secretive empire."

"Unfortunately, when some journalists talk about members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they create a caricature," the letter said.

The Salt Lake-based church has long been skittish about media attempts to dub the 2002 Winter Games the "Mormon games."

After repeated questions about polygamy and other dark spots in the church's past, Mormon officials mailed more than 3,000 press packets detailing the church's history.

Silver lining
Isolde Kostner of Italy dedicated her silver medal performance in the women's downhill to Amnesty International.

"Amnesty International is doing a project together with me," she said. "There is going to be an auction on Internet online of all my clothing that I was wearing in this race. This will benefit a project which will try to end torture in the world."

Kostner was second to Carole Montillet of France.

Hometown transportation
When out-of-towners want to hop a bus to an event, many of the visitors look for one from their hometowns. Some 900 buses were brought in from different cities around the country to haul passengers at the games.

Some of the buses are easily identified by their splashy placards, including an Ohio bus bearing a "Cleveland Rocks" sign. Another bus beckons fans to balmy San Diego: "Flip-Flops. For everything you can't do in ski boots."

Mayer Day
It was Travis Mayer's day in the New York towns of Orchard Park and Ellicottville and -- most importantly -- in Salt Lake City.

Last week, the Orchard Park Town Board declared Tuesday, Feb. 12 `Travis Mayer Day" to mark the hometown skier's Olympic debut.

The 19-year-old Mayer, who got his skiing start in Ellicottville, celebrated his day by winning the Olympics' moguls silver medal.

Mayer's parents, who own a cider mill in suburban Buffalo, were with him in Utah for his Olympic moment. Back in Ellicottville, friends shared in the celebration.

"We've watched him grow up at Holiday Valley," said Victoria Brown, owner of the Ellicottville Depot, a restaurant popular with skiers.

Isn't it a little early to be arguing about 2018?
It's still 16 years away, but a feud is already brewing about which Norwegian city should bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Oslo officials believe they should get the games because a half-century has passed since the city was host. Lillehammer officials insist they deserve another chance since the 1994 Olympics in their small town went so well.

"It has been 50 years since Oslo arranged the Olympics and only eight years since the Lillehammer Olympics. I think Oslo is a much stronger candidate," mayor Per Ditlev-Simonsen told the newspaper Aftenposten.

Lillehammer Mayor Synnoeve Brenden Klemetrud told the newspaper Gudbrandsoelen Dagningen: "Oslo doesn't have a good starting point for venues," adding that the capital would have to use some of Lillehammer's facilities even if it got the games.

A truce between the cities seems likely, since a joint Lillehammer-Oslo application is considered Norway's best chance to land the Olympics again.