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Record Breakers Launch Olympic Games
Skiers, Skaters Get Games off to Lightning Start

Because of International Olympic Committee restrictions on Internet rights, npr.org may not offer audio of this report.

Shannon Bahrke celebrates medal Derek Parra skates to world record
Shannon Bahrke of the United States celebrates after her silver medal run in the women's moguls (L). American Derek Parra skates to his own silver medal in the men's 5,000-meter event (R).
Photos copyright 2002 Reuters Limited.

Feb. 10, 2002 -- By Day Two of competition at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, there were already spills, tears and upsets, says NPR's Elizabeth Arnold. Ten countries won medals and a world record was broken -- not once, but twice. The U.S. Olympic team delivered on its promised fast start, winning a pair of silver medals, in women's moguls and speed skating. For Weekend Edition Sunday, Arnold reports.

The Nordic Combined
It was still dark when the first spectators climbed the hill to the 90-meter ski jump. But when the sun came up over the mountains, the first jumper was in mid-flight; the crowd roared with approval as he defied gravity and landed with ease on skis the size of two-by-fours and boots as flimsy as sneakers.

A pair of Americans, Todd Lodwick and Bill Demong, were among the top 10 finishers in the ski jump portion of what's called the Nordic combined, a two-day event which also includes a 15-kilometer cross-country race. Lodwick and Demong will begin that race a full two minutes behind the jumping leader Jaakko Tallus of Finland. The United States has never won a medal in Nordic combined.

Along with jumping, moguls skiing was one of the first day's events. Up the road from the ski jump course, at the Deer Valley ski resort, the women negotiated the bumps on a course declared by youthful announcers as "gnarly" and "insane." The crowd moaned in sympathy as several skiers lost their line and skied off the course. But as Shannon Bahrke started her run it was clear it would be a good one.

Bahrke caught big air off the first jump and executed what's called a helicopter cross, a full revolution with the tips of the skis crossed. The rest of the run was flawless. At the bottom she watched as her name went into first place on the board -- and then she watched Norwegian Kari Traa ski the same bumps even better. Still, Bahrke, at her first Olympics, was hardly disappointed with a silver medal, the first U.S. medal of these games.

Meanwhile, further up the highway at Solider Hollow -- the cross-country venue -- an Italian skier was feeling pressure she didn't anticipate. Stefania Belmondo had a strong lead in the women's 15-kilometer race but broke a pole just five kilometers from the finish. She started crying and someone handed her a pole. A disbelieving crowd looked on as Belmondo caught up to the leaders, passed them and won the gold medal. She wept once again.

Skating
Along with the best snow on Earth, Utah has boasted of having the fastest ice -- and at the Olympic Oval, that claim proved true.

In the first speed skating event of the games, a world record in the 5,000 meters was broken, not once but twice. U.S. skater Derek Parra, who lives in Orlando, Fla., and converted to ice from inline skating, surprised himself and the speed skating world with a world record finish. Parra's time at the oval was more than 15 seconds faster than his previous personal best. But 15 minutes later, Jochem Uytdehaage of the Netherlands broke the new record by 3-1/2 seconds. Like moguls skier Shannon Bahrke, though, Parra was more than content with silver.

Predictions are a commodity at the Olympics -- but as reliable as the weather. At least one athlete learned that the hard way Saturday. The first skier to represent Thailand in the winter games figured it was a safe bet that he'd finish last in the men's 30-kilometer cross-country race -- but he was mistaken. He never finished the race at all.



   
   
   
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