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Winter Olympics Preview: Nagano? Naga-Yes!

Outside magazine, February 1998

Winter Olympics Preview: Nagano? Naga-Yes!

Sure, this year's Winter Olympics will have its foibles, including a gaggle of over-hyped personal stories, suspense-killing tape-delays, and TV talking heads nattering on about "adorable" pixies on skates. But that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of good reasons to love the Games anyway.

The Dreamer

My Snakebit


After ten years as America's brightest, and then most disappointing, hope in the rat scramble of the World Cup downhill circuit, perhaps the only thing harder for AJ Kitt than linking turns at 80 miles an hour was sitting on a sun deck over a beer, trying to put a good face on an ugly year while 24 guys with European names were leaning into the gravity of the steeps a half-mile away in the last race of the 1997 season, the championship race, for which he hadn't even qualified. The next big show, the Nagano Games, was still months away, but this sorry finale didn't look like a sign of great things to come.

"No, no, I won't watch any of these races," said Kitt. Just being in Vail without a number on his bib was pain enough. In fact, he didn't want to make the drive from his home in Boulder, wouldn't have except for pressure from one of his sponsors to be at an event they were throwing. "And," he said, grabbing at think-positive nuggets, "it was a chance to do a little free skiing with these guys." He nodded at the couple with him at the table, his first ski instructors, his parents, Ross and Nancy, who successfully got him sliding on a pair of wooden skis when he was a wobbly two years old — perhaps the last time expectations for the startlingly talented Kitt were fully realized.

At 29, Kitt carries the unmistakable image of his father writ just a bit larger, stronger: 200 pounds of muscle on a five-foot-11 frame, buzz-cut brown hair, clean open face, blue eyes set wide over thin lips, the old-fashioned look of the all-American boy.

"AJ beat his dad at golf yesterday, for the first time ever," said Nancy, beaming at her only child. "I've been after Ross for years to let AJ win, and all he'd ever say was 'No way!'"

Kitt said nothing. Instead, he sat with a weary sort of stoicism, getting ready to talk, one more time, about a career in ski racing that was famous for loss and injury; getting ready to insist that, despite it all, he felt good, physically and mentally, about the upcoming season and the run to Nagano. On one level, it was a professional sort of optimism — something for his sponsors, coaches, and teammates — but just below that you could feel him talking to himself, trying to rekindle the fire with which he started.

Kitt has skied his nearly one thousand downhill races and practice runs in the shadow of his own early promise. He began racing at six years old on the hills near his home in Rochester, New York. When he was 15 his parents enrolled him in The Green Mountain Valley School near Sugarbush in Vermont, where he got hooked on downhill. "I liked it," he said. "The speed, the air, being on the edge and in dangerous situations." It was the kind of go-fast-or-crash appetite that coaches watch for, and Kitt combined it with a thoughtfulness and coachability that were unusual in the egotistic cult of downhillers. He made the U.S. Ski Team at 18 and at 19 was headed to the Olympics. In Calgary, he took 26th place, the best American downhill finish.

Four years later, on the eve of the Albertville Games, Kitt seemed to hit his pace. In December of 1991, in the first event of the season, he became the second man in U.S. ski-team history (after Bill Johnson) to win a World Cup downhill race. A month after that, in KitzbÆhel, Austria, on the gnarliest downhill course of them all, he again shocked the circuit by finishing second. The promise of those races, however, was dimmed by his Olympic runs: On a hill he did not like, he finished ninth. Disappointing, but not devastating, he said at the time.

What followed were six years of injuries and a trail of flukish losses. By 1994, Kitt was skiing like a man who'd decided to quit but hadn't taken off his skis yet. Then, in the wake of an off-season marriage, he regained his focus and in March of '95 battled a blizzard on Aspen Mountain to take his second win on the World Cup tour. But the French filed a protest, and three days later officials declared the race invalid. For Kitt, who'd had 36 hours of pure ski-hero ecstasy, the reversal left a wound he still deals with.

"It changed everything for me," he said. "I had to relearn what competition was all about. I had to admit to myself that the sport wasn't pure, that it could be politically driven and corrupt. That's been tough. It's been hard to get thoroughly excited about competing again because in the back of my mind I'm probably a little afraid of winning, feeling so much joy, then having it taken away again."

"AJ has a hard time with failure," says his friend and teammate Tommy Moe, who won the men's downhill in Lillehammer but has been plagued by a knee injury since 1995. "Obviously, he got ripped off a few times, but hey, everybody does. In ski racing you have to be intense, but when things don't go your way, you have to relax."

Kitt went into the '96 season, he said, "determined to ski against the clock, against the mountain, against myself, worrying only about my effort and my performance." Then, in Val-d'Isêre, injury was added to insult in a crash that blew out his knee and set the stage for another series of bad races the next season. And so the question remained: Why not just limp away, put an end to this ill-fated, roller coaster career?

"I am thinking about racing a couple more years and then retiring," he said. "But there are a lot of things I haven't accomplished yet. I want an Olympic medal and I want a good shot at a World Cup downhill title."

By the start of this season, however, it looked like Kitt was still far from both goals. Though a likely shoe-in for the American Olympic downhill team, he finished a disappointing 29th and 45th in the first two races of the World Cup circuit in Colorado.

"Unfortunately, he got off to a slow start," says U.S. men's downhill and super G coach Ueli Luthi. Then sounding, as coaches often do, like an occupational therapist, he adds, "But I think he wants to succeed — we just have to concentrate hard on daily tasks. We have to make sure he doesn't go into the tank. He can get negative, and we only have room for positive."

"I do think this year is going to be a lot better," says Kitt, doing his job, talking the brave game.

And what about fun? Any room for that?

"Fun," he says, "is when you finish a race standing on the podium. I haven't had any of that in years." — CRAIG VETTER

The Dope on Skiing

The Contenders: In the men's events, any Austrian downhiller, especially Fritz Strobl, and Italy's van Gogh-esque (he lost part of an ear in a car accident) Kristian Ghedina. In the slalom, Austria's Thomas Stangassinger, the defending Olympic champ, and Thomas Sykora are poised to subdue Italian lothario Alberto Tomba. Austrian Hermann Maier, turned down by the national team as a scrawny 15-year-old, may finally reap his super G moment; years of bricklaying have turned him into a powerhouse. In giant slalom, Switzerland's Michael von Gruenigen faces Canadian dark horse Thomas Grandi. Norway's Renaissance skier Kjetil Andre Aamodt is a hopeful in all four events.

Among the women, Sweden's Pernilla Wiberg will be an all-event player, unless an October knee injury holds her up. In downhill and super G she faces stern Teutonic ("I am not a smiling machine") Katja Seizinger and Italian phenom Isolde Kostner. Not content with single golds in the last two Games, Italy's Deborah Compagnoni is gunning for double gold in slalom and GS.

Watch For: Swiss skiers with teeny pores; the women's team travels with its own beautician.

One More Thing: Three hundred local volunteers and junior high students transplanted 4,400 miyama'aoi plants and 870 barrenwort plants to lure the protected Gifu butterfly away from its favored breeding ground at the foot of the men's super G course. — SARAH FRIEDMAN

The Horror

The Schmucks of Winter

Every rose, a great philosopher once said, has its thorn. By the same token, for nearly every heroic Winter Olympian who captures the hearts and cereal boxes of an adoring public, there's usually a cheater, a spoilsport, a crybaby, or even a flat-out yutz. This rule of thumb reached critical mass, of course, in the '94 Lillehammer Games, where the Tonya and Nancy Show established for all time that (a) just a collapsible baton, a shoelace, and a few venomous words picked up by a network microphone can make for delightful melodrama; and (b) even winners can be losers. But actually, those patron saints of asininity are only upholding a long tradition of Olympic misbehavior. Some of the more heartwarming outtakes:

1932, Lake Placid: In the middle of the second heat of the men's 1,500-meter speed-skate, the American judges inexplicably stop the race, alleging that the participants are "loafing." When the race restarts, American John Shea finishes first, the last time a Yank wins the 1,500 for the next 48 years.

1948, St. Moritz: During the ice hockey finals (Switzerland versus Canada), some 5,000 Swiss fans watching from surrounding cliffs voice their displeasure, with characteristic Swiss passion, by pelting officials with snowballs each time they disagree with a call; Switzerland nonetheless loses, 3-0.

1952, Oslo: Imparting a lesson in physics that the International Olympic Committee will never forget, four German bobsledders cleverly loophole their way to the gold medal by realizing the potential of their combined weight (1,041 pounds, 8 ounces). That same year, the International Bobsled and Tobogganing Federation drafts a rule forbidding future bobsled squads from weighing more than a relatively petite 880.

1956, Cortina d'Ampezzo: Despite the previous failure of Swiss projectiles to influence the outcome of an event, spectators at the pairs figure skating finals revive this strategy with fresh produce; when the German team places fourth, members of the audience assault the judges and referee with hurled oranges. Earlier in these same Games, Italian speed skater Guido Caroli trips over a cable on the ice rink as he carries the Olympic torch; no one throws fruit or any other foodstuffs at him.

1960, Squaw Valley: After winning figure-skating gold, Queens resident Carol Heiss aspires to imitate the Hollywood success of legendary Olympic skater Sonja Henie (whose 1937 blockbuster One in a Million earned her roles in nine more movies). Heiss indeed scores a leading role, then soon retires after her only picture, Snow White and the Three Stooges, fails to establish her in the industry.

1988, Calgary: Noted Olympics scholar Kathie Lee Gifford, paired with her husband, Frank, for late-night recaps on ABC, observes that German figure skater Katarina Witt looks fabulous "for a girl who eats ice cream every day." — MIKE GRUDOWSKI

The Arrivistes

Sick Broomwork, Dude!

A clip-and-save guide to two inaugural Olympic sports that promise thrills and, uh, more thrills

The games in Nagano will welcome new friends to Olympic majesty: snowboarding — both halfpipe and giant slalom — and curling. For better or worse, one sport reflects where we've been as a society, the other where we're going. With a hale clap and some gratuitous chest-butting, we say hello.




Typical Venue

Most Telegenic Play

Philosophical Approach

Off Season Lifestyle


Athlete launches two stories into the air to perform "sick" (truly exceptional) flips, spins, grabs, and combination maneuvers with names such as "crippler," "roast beef," "McTwist," "iguana," and "nose poke."

Digitally designed board based on a specified "flex profile," made of multiple layers of high-grade fiberglass around foam core, with steel edges sharp enough, say designers at Burton Snowboard, "to cut through bullet-proof ice" and decorated with lacquered graphics intended "to look bad-ass."

Hopped up on Beach Boys music but landlocked in Muskegon, Michigan, Sherman Poppen in 1965 screws together two pairs of children's skis and "surfs" down a snow-covered hill. He licenses idea to Brunswick, which sells a million "Snurfers" over the next ten years.

Any ski resort with halfpipe and lift-rattling rap music.

The "Haaken Flip," personalized move of Norwegian halfpipe contortionist and odds-on gold medalist Terje Haakonsen. Called a "chiropractic nightmare" by some, few athletes can execute the flip with two full twists, as it requires big-time "fat air" (about 12 feet) off the lip of the pipe. Explains Burton spokesman Carson Stanwood: "It's a question of balls."

"The Olympics are so stuffy," says 28-year-old halfpipe specialist Todd Richards. "Snowboarding will bring fresh air to it. Me, I'm a notorious shit-giver. I'll go around loosening up people's bindings and grabbing people's goggles and pulling them over their heads."

Athletes cross-train with a crapshoot of death-defying sports. Medal hopeful Mike Jacoby, 28, sky dives, surfs, and flies his own Piper Cherokee.


Athlete pushes large, tea-kettle-shaped hunk of polished granite toward bull's eye. Teammates with brooms sprint ahead of projectile, furiously sweeping the ice, attempting to "guide the stone."

Forty-two-pound rock; brooms.

Bored Scottish farmers in the 1500s begin rolling stones across frozen bogs and lochs. Immigrants transport the game to Canada in 1759, where tournaments called "bonspiels" spread like warm haggis across the provinces and the northern United States.

Except in Wisconsin and Minnesota, where comfy, indoor "curling clubs" are more common than Lutheran churches, anywhere decent ice can be found. Each winter in Omaha, Nebraska, 21-year-old Olympic hopeful Chad Roza manufactures the state's only curling surface, in a local horse barn.

It's the tenth and final "end" (inning). Game's tied up. The team with the "hammer" (last shot) slips the rock through a "portal" (small space between two "guards," opposition rocks blocking the scoring area) and lands it a quarter inch closer to the "tee" (bull's eye) than an opposition rock, thus snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. "I guarantee you," says USA Curling spokesman Rick Patzke, "the crowd would get pretty worked up."

Says Stacey Liapis, 23, finalist at the 1997 Curling National Championships: "I have learned that a person cannot win them all, and so I have also learned that when we lose, we must lose graciously and learn from that loss. We work hard, have fun, and most of all try to be good ambassadors for the sport of curling."

Athletes cross-train with a crapshoot of agricultural activities. Says Craig Disher, 39, of Rolla, North Dakota, whose five-member squad consists of grain farmers: "We plant in May, harvest in late August, and market our crops in September. By early October we're ready to curl."


The Dope on Luge & Bobsled


The Contenders: In men's doubles, U.S. hopefuls Chris Thorpe and Gordy Sheer face stiff competition from German veterans Stefan Krausse and Jan Behrendt, Italy's reigning gold medalists Kurt Brugger and Willy Huber, as well as strong-starting U.S. teammates Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin. As they have for the past two Games, the Frick and Frack of men's solos, Germany's diminutive Mr. Popularity Georg Hackl and Austria's lanky but standoffish Markus Prock should take gold and silver, respectively. U.S. big boy Wendel Suckow could upset or take bronze. Among the women, U.S. veteran Cammy Myler faces Tyrolean T-shirt artist (and '94 gold medalist) Gerda Weissensteiner; the six-foot-tall, flaxen-haired German knockout Susi Erdmann; and Jana Bode, her less glamorous and harder-training teammate.

Watch For: Snazzy new suits. Sans the traditional rubbery coating, luge uniforms don't slide quite as far in a smash-up — and they accept multi-colored dyes, a big image leap from the old East Bloc monotone look.

One More Thing: In 2002, Salt Lake City might host a thrill-inducing sledding sibling: skeleton, a belly-flopping, head-first style that's all the rage in Europe and scares even veteran lugers.

"I wouldn't be caught dead doing it," says Team U.S. emeritus Bonny Warner. "Crash and your face is dragging along the ice."


The Contenders: After his four-man team was disqualified in Lillehammer for allegedly heating their runners, driver Brian Shimer might help make amends by bringing home the first U.S. medal in 42 years; fellow U.S. driver Jim Herberich is also a contender in the two-man sled. The competition? Canada's Pierre Lueders and Germany's Christoph Langen, back strong from a torn Achilles tendon, in the two-man race, and '94 gold medalist and former Stasi informer Harald Czudaj in the four-man. Back for another drubbing, the Disney-flick-inspiring (and Red Stripe-sponsored) Jamaican rastateam. "They won't finish in the top 15," snipes U.S. coach Steve Maiorca, openly peeved at the lovable underdogs' continued spotlight grab.

Watch For: Smiley American faces. Shrugging off years of internal bickering, morale-sapping celebrity ringers (remember Herschel Walker in '92?), and barely-there funding, Team U.S. is riding high on the Bo-Dyn, a hot-rod-esque new sled that's been beating the ne-plus-ultra European models all year.

One More Thing: Shimer's number-two sled pusher, former prison guard and off-season pro wrestler Chip Minton, didn't make the cut for "American Gladiators." (Three-time Olympic bobsledder Prince Albert of Monaco, however, is a pal.) — SUSAN ENFIELD

The up and comers

Hold the Ice

Now that America's top lugers have proven they can match the Europeans drink for drink, they have something to prove on the track

When American lugers Chris Thorpe and Gordy Sheer won their first World Cup doubles event, in the blighted formerly communist town of Sigulda, Latvia, in February 1995, it was a night to remember — if only they could. The legendary German duo of Stefan Krausse and Jan Behrendt, whom they had edged out by nine-hundredths of a second, dragged them down to the tiny bar at their hotel and fed them shots until Thorpe got sick and Sheer could barely stand. "It was like an initiation," says Sheer, 26, of the hazy memory. "Up until then, they'd never really talked to us. Now we hang out together."

That the 1992 Olympic gold medalists have embraced Thorpe and Sheer speaks volumes for the American duo's accomplishments. When Thorpe and Sheer bulleted their way to glory, winning the 1996-97 World Cup, they made history by becoming the first non-Europeans to take the overall title. From the U.S. perspective, their performance was nothing short of a miracle. In the 17 years since the U.S. Luge Association formed in the basement of a Lake Placid delicatessen called Capt. Billy's Whiz Bang, American sliders have mostly raced as if they hadn't digested the meal that preceded the meeting. Except for occasional successes, most significantly Wendel Suckow's unlikely win at the 1993 world championships in Calgary and Duncan Kennedy's solid World Cup results in '92 and '93, the U.S. has been notorious for choking in the big events. Needless to say, no American has ever won an Olympic medal in luge.

Suckow will give it one last college try in Nagano, but hopes will be riding on Thorpe and Sheer, who have slowly but steadily risen through the international doubles ranks since they began racing together a decade ago, finishing 12th in the '92 Olympics and fifth in '94. They began their final ascent to the sport's top tier in 1996, when they scrapped their four-year-old sled for a sleeker model and readjusted their body positions so that the sled and not Thorpe's outstretched feet trip the electric start timer, saving them as much as one-tenth of a second, an eternity in luge.

It's hard-won success for two athletes whose sport garners little but smirks in their home country and whose days are spent lying back-to-belly on a sled traveling 80 miles per hour. "Some people think what we do is strange," admits Sheer, who rides on bottom. "But really we're just traveling the world sleigh-riding."

Still, there are dark moments, moments when the pair fantasize about abandoning luge for its hipper and more popular urban stepson, street luge. Woozy from toiling so long in obscure frozen ice chutes, Thorpe and Sheer see the bastardized road game as a career opportunity. "I'd like to see if I could get into the X Games," says 27-year-old Thorpe. "Though I wouldn't be going for the whole daredevil persona thing."

But first Nagano and perhaps, finally, the love of a nation. They already scored the luge equivalent of a Wheaties box when the Orlando branch of the Official All Star Cafe recently announced that it would erect a life-size display of the pair, complete with video clips. Still, they shy away from the suggestion that they could be one race away from immortality. "We didn't get into this for fame or fortune," says Sheer. "Until you've been down the ice yourself, you'll never understand." — JULIAN RUBINSTEIN

The Fighters

A Brawl of Their Own

Does women's hockey have finesse?

Sure. Quickness? Certainly.

Good fights? Oh, baby.

It was a big joke around the olympic Training Center in Lake Placid last August when 17-year-old defenseman Angela Ruggiero broke her tooth during a corporate video shoot the women's Olympic hockey team was doing for Visa. Rookie looks like a gap-toothed goon. Ha. A goon in women's hockey, where checking isn't even allowed. Can you imagine?

Actually, yes. During an exhibition loss to Canada in November, U.S. captain Cammi Granato was smacked in the face with a stick and took three stitches in her lip. The next night, in another loss to the Canadians, U.S. forward Karyn Bye had to limp off the ice after being illegally leg-checked. Seconds later, Ruggiero, known to her teammates as Rugger, went after a few of the Canadians, landing a couple of good punches before being hauled away to the penalty box. "It's getting a little physical," admits the five-foot-nine, 175-pound Ruggiero, the youngest player on the U.S. team. "But they drew first blood with Cammi. And especially against Canada, we have to stick up for our teammates."

When women's hockey makes its Olympic premiere in Nagano, don't expect it to live up to its billing as the nonviolent alternative to the pugilistic men's game. The early rounds should be tame enough, with lesser powers such as Finland and China trying to position themselves for the bronze. But when the U.S. and Canada meet for the gold — which barring a point-shaving scandal is all but guaranteed — it will be The Grudge Match of the '98 Games, a contest lacking only the political punch of the men's American-Soviet rivalry of yore.

At all four women's world championships held since the tournament's inception in 1990, the U.S. has faced Canada in the finals and lost every time. Last year in Kitchener, Ontario, the U.S. had a 3-2 lead in the third period before eventually succumbing, 4-3, in overtime. "That was devastating," says 26-year-old Granato, one of three players on the U.S. team who played in all of those games. "There's definitely some bad blood — the games can be really dirty because the teams just don't like each other. But that loss in Ontario feeds into now. We're so hungry to win a gold medal. We don't know what that feels like, and we'd like to."

In exhibition games since the 1997 worlds, the teams have been trading victories fairly evenly — as well as barbs, salvos, and occasional jabs and hooks. But the seven-year war has taken such a toll on the U.S. players that they've been training for Nagano as if they were a traveling in-patient recovery group. Bonding sessions have become as important, and frequent, as practice. On every road trip, the players switch roommates so that they can get to know everyone equally well. In November, they bused down to Massachusetts for a day of team-building drills with a wilderness-skills instructor. And once a week they meet as a group with a "sports science consultant," who has been giving them "team unity" exercises in which the players are asked to draw their feelings with crayons. "It's hard to explain," says Granato. "But it seems to help."

You'd probably benefit from therapy, too, if you'd gone through what these women have just to play hockey. All of them played on boys' teams growing up, enduring taunts, name calling, and cheap shots, because no girls' teams were offered. Two players had to pretend to be boys just to make the roster in Canadian tournaments: Forward Stephanie O'Sullivan went by Steven; defenseman Kelly O'Leary was Kevin.

But as they prepare for their sport's debut, they are doing their best to heal and hide the scars. Even Rugger had her tooth capped. But not before she put on her uniform and took a few snapshots. Just a reminder of what it would look like to be a gap-toothed goon in women's hockey. — JULIAN RUBINSTEIN

The Dope on Men's


The Contenders: After years of taking it on the chin from Canada and the former Soviet Union (save that Lake Placid fluke), a suddenly NHL-pro-heavy Team U.S. finally has a shot at gold. Russia doesn't, with many of its now-Americanized NHL stars snubbing the invitation. Is it Russia's disorganized, cash-poor program that's scaring them away or the perceived risk to their popularity back in the States?

Watch For: Unusually balletic moves from the likes of Colorado Avalanche center Peter Forsberg and Canadian Anaheim Mighty Duck forward Paul Kariya. On the Olympic rink, 15 feet wider than the standard NHL oval, finesse pulls rank over force.

One More Thing: Did you know that blood bounces on ice? But you won't see much — Olympic scrappers get kicked out of the game and suspended from the next one. — SARAH FRIEDMAN

The Immortal

Alberto, We Hardly Knew Ye

Swan song, schman song: Everyone's favorite lothario has plenty of Olympics left in him. Sadness will drench the closing ceremonies in nagano this month. No, Lionel Richie isn't singing the finale. The globe will weep because 31-year-old Alberto Tomba is expected to hang up the Rossignols on his spectacular and highly entertaining Olympic skiing career. Sobbing loudest, perhaps, will be the media, who will lose the one slalom skier more colorful than snow. Who can forget La Bomba's explosion in Calgary in '88, when he earned two golds and an internationally televised spurning by ice maiden Katarina Witt? Fluent in the lexicon of himself, Tomba toyed with vowels and rechristened the host province "Alberto." He engaged in this viciously clever wordplay again in Albertville ("Albertoville") in '92, when he took slalom silver and GS gold. As years and girth gained on Alberto, he modified his behavior: "I used to have a wild time with three women until 5 a.m. Now I...live it up with five women until 3 a.m." This wiser, spunkier Tomba karate-kicked one pushy photographer and threw a crystal trophy at another. Police popped him for using his honorary police ID and flashing light (provided by the Bologna carabiniere) to skirt traffic jams. Despite his fondness for pasta, his otherwise dolce vita, and the excess kilos that ensued, Tomba won another silver in Lillehammer ("LilleTomba") and could repeat in Nagano. No doubt he'll skip Salt Lake in 2002. But don't expect a placid, Metamucil-hawking retirement. Tomba's the closest thing the Olympics have to a rock star. And as Kiss and Heart and countless others have proven time after time, rock stars always come back.

2006: Tomba makes a surprisingly successful return in Reykjavìk, winning the silver in the biathlon, despite killing a vacationing Brazilian businessman with an errant shot. He also provides the best gossip of the Games by persistently coming on to the new Olympic mascot — Harmony, Puffin of International Friendship — at one point presenting her with two dozen long-stemmed roses and a scented note that misspells "tail feather." Finally, Harmony responds to his repeated advances by beating the Italian senseless with a stubby, flightless wing.

2010: In what will forever be remembered as the "Miracle in Irkutsk," Tomba coaches the upstart Italian hockey team and its gutty overachievers to a gold-medal upset of the favored Jamaicans. Disney quickly hatches the plot for Mighty Ducks 6 and signs Barry Williams, TV's beloved Greg Brady, for the Tomba role. The fairy-tale scenario sours somewhat, however, when ABC's Al Michaels rasps out, "Do you believe in miracles?" to which Tomba replies, "I believe in the miracle that goes by the name Alberto!"

2014: Newly crowned curling gold-medalist Tomba — flying the B2 bomber he received as a gift from his adoring, ever-generous friends in the Bologna carabiniere — steals the show at the Sarajevo Games by quelling a Serbian uprising; he subsequently insists on UN recognition of himself as an independent nation.

2018: Tomba, now approximately the size of an independent

nation, enters Vancouver's ice-dancing competition; he and partner Kerri Strug miss out on the bronze by a mere tenth of a point due to Tomba's ill-advised flying pirouette onto his partner's shoulder. Crushed — not literally, of course, although Strug was — Tomba vows that he will now contemplate retirement by soaking in a lukewarm tub, with either eight rubber ducks until ten o'clock or ten rubber ducks until eight o'clock.

2020: An impish and newly svelte Tomba makes a surprise splash at Berlin's Summer Games by donning a Lycra one-piece and upsetting the Chinese women in the 100-meter butterfly — a victory he credits to having shaved more closely than his opponents.

2022: Troubled by sagging TV ratings, the IOC hearkens back to a TV-blockbuster moment with the "Whack Nancy Kerrigan's Knee" exhibition event in Detroit. Now in his mid-fifties, Tomba declines to celebrate his silver with his usual pasta, claiming the garlic now makes him dyspeptic. He retreats instead to a Luby's cafeteria in Ypsilanti, where he enjoys triple helpings of creamed corn.

2026: In Gstaad's Olympic Spelling Bee, Tomba nails "Samaranch" and "Lillehammer" but stumbles badly on "Ueberroth," forfeiting the gold to the ice-water-veined automaton that is Bonnie Blair. Mixing his own metaphors now, a bitter Tomba invites two photographers to shoot him on the bidet around 4 p.m. (or is it four photographers about twoish?).

2030: At the games in seasonally frigid, El Ni˜o-ized Irian Jaya, a Brandoesque Tomba turns conventional luge wisdom on its head by winning the gold without the use of a sled. Afterward, he proclaims that the name of the island should be changed to "Irian Tomba." Natives promptly eat him. — ROB STORY

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