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Old 02-07-2006, 10:08 AM   #1
Jeremy Jones
Affiliate Jeremy Jones is offline
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Concord  Ca
Posts: 1,218
(got this one from Yahoo) wsports;_ylt=Ai2Gx8vH2j1zoF4cL6CtTpXfjOQA;_ylu=X3o DMTBiMW04NW9mBHNlYwMlJVRPUCUl

American athletes taking to new sports

By Vicki Michaelis, USA TODAY Tue Feb 7, 7:18 AM ET

The most decorated U.S. athlete at the 2006
Winter Olympics could be long-track speedskater Chad Hedrick from Spring, Texas, a place far from any kind of ice you won't find at the bottom of a glass.

Hedrick will march into Friday's opening ceremony in Torino alongside fellow Texan Todd Hays, a bobsledder, and fellow speedskaters Jennifer Rodriguez of Miami and Joey Cheek of Greensboro, N.C. All are medal contenders.

What in the name of cold-climate sports is going on here? The U.S. Winter Olympic team, trying to continue its unprecedented success from the 2002 Salt Lake City Games and drawing from an ever-wider population to do it, is becoming a band of converts. Several 2006 U.S. Olympians who have crossed over from other sports, such as inline skating and track and field, are priming the USA's medal hopes for Torino - and future Winter Games - as never before.

"It's no longer you've got to be from Lake Placid (N.Y.) or you've got to be from Park City (Utah). It exposes an entirely different population to the fact that you, too, can make it in the Winter Games," says Steve Roush, the U.S. Olympic Committee's chief of sport performance.

Crossover athletes are not new to the Winter Olympics. The most famous was former NFL star Herschel Walker, who competed in bobsled in the 1992 Games, finishing seventh in the two-man. K.C. Boutiette, the first inline skater to make the Olympic team, first tried speedskating in 1993, and Torino will be his fourth Games.

The 2006 U.S. team is proof that athletes coming over to the cold side are succeeding at unprecedented levels. They are helping to feed expectations the USA will come close to matching the 34 medals it won in Salt Lake City rather than experiencing the dramatic drop-off most nations do after hosting a Winter Games:

Headlined by Hedrick, who won 50 major inline titles before switching, the speedskaters who moved from inline skating could win close to a third of the USA's medals in these Games. Six of the 10 U.S. men's long-track speedskaters and half of the 10 total short-trackers who will compete in Torino were inline skaters.

They switched, many say, in hopes of winning an Olympic medal. "I never thought I was going to make a dime in speedskating," says Hedrick, who was earning $150,000 a year in inline skating when he was converted after watching the 2002 Games. "This was for the gold medal."

Hedrick broke a nine-year Dutch stranglehold on the world allround title, one of speedskating's most revered crowns, just two years after making the switch. In Torino, he's aiming for Eric Heiden's record of five individual gold medals in one Games, set in 1980.

Hays, who led a 2-3 U.S. finish that ended the USA's 46-year Olympic medal drought in men's bobsled in the 2002 Games, now has a 58-year dry spell in his sights. The former University of Tulsa football player and national kickboxing champion could win the first U.S. gold in men's bobsled since 1948. He could even double up in Torino: Hays ranks third in the two-man and fourth in the four-man in this season's World Cup.

Twelve of the 14 men and women on the 2006 Olympic U.S. bobsled team have backgrounds in track and field and/or football. The remaining two, drivers Jean Prahm and Steve Holcomb, got their starts in other sports as well - Prahm in luge and Holcomb in downhill ski racing.

"Track and field is always where I wanted to make the Games," says brakeman Valerie Fleming, a former sprinter and javelin thrower who with driver Shauna Rohbock forms the USA's top women's team. "Bobsled wasn't even a thought in my mind." Rohbock ran track and played soccer at Brigham Young University, taking soccer another step by playing in the now-defunct WUSA, a professional league.

She and Fleming won the bronze medal in last year's world championships. They are third in this season's World Cup standings and favored to join the ever-dominant Germans on the medal stand.

Success draws others

Up to now, most of these athletes have come on their own, stumbling over Winter Olympic possibilities through happenstance rather than aggressive recruiting efforts by winter sports federations.

Fleming attended a bobsled camp after hearing about it from a co-worker. Vonetta Flowers, back for Torino after winning gold in the 2002 Olympics, went to a bobsled tryout when she saw a flier posted by former U.S. bobsledder Bonny Warner. Flowers' husband, like her a college track and field athlete, also tried out but pulled a hamstring during the tryout. "The joke was, 'You have to continue on; you have to live the dream out for the family,' " Vonetta Flowers recalls.

Hedrick was watching the 2002 Games at a Las Vegas casino when he saw former inline skater Derek Parra win gold in world-record time in the 1,500 meters. "Derek was my main competitor when I was inline skating," Hedrick says. "He and I were 1-2 in the U.S. ... I knew that something was possible. I knew my work ethic, I knew my talent; I knew it could happen."

Anthony Lobello, a former inline skater and 2006 short-track Olympian from Tallahassee, Fla., also was moved to make the switch by Parra's 2002 performance. "I was sitting on my couch, going, 'I know this guy,' " Lobello says.

U.S. sports officials are seeing the migration and mulling ways to plumb the crossover pipelines, although they're being cautioned not to neglect their traditional grass-roots programs in the process.

"One of the things you need to be very cautious of is to be dependent on emerging elite athletes coming from other sports because if all of a sudden that dries up, you do want to control your own destiny," Roush says.

Immediately after the 2002 Games, the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation kicked off a college recruitment program, visiting major universities to talk to coaches and scout track and field athletes and football players. The program stirred some interest, but Tom Allen, the women's team manager and recruiting coach for the federation, says it needs to be retooled to be truly productive.

"It's very difficult going to a big university like that, walking in and trying to recruit athletes out of college," he says. "A lot of the coaches are a little wary. In the future we're going to start recruiting athletes like colleges recruit. We're going to do some research on athletes and actually go out and ask them if they're interested."

U.S. Speedskating officials, not wanting to drain inline's talent pool, are reluctant to do anything to lure inline skaters beyond opening their doors when the athletes approach them. Joint development camps and marketing programs with USA Roller Sports haven't advanced beyond the discussion stage.

"I don't think we've developed the relationship well enough where maybe inline can get something from short track and maybe we can get something from inline and work together," says Derrick Campbell, U.S. Speedskating's managing director for short track.

USA Roller Sports executive director Richard Hawkins says he's open to working with speedskating officials and believes his federation already is getting something from the crossover trend.

"Our skaters so far have been proud to say where they're from, which raises the awareness of our sport in the United States," he says.

Crossover is international

The trend toward crossover athletes is on the rise internationally as well. In China and Australia, for example, gymnasts have been transformed into aerial skiers and had a lot of success in recent years.

During a 2003 visit to China, freestyle coaches saw dozens of Chinese women, most of them gymnasts handpicked to boost their country's Winter Olympic prospects, training for aerials. China's approach is paying off. Chinese women won aerials gold and bronze in the 2005 world championships and have enough talent to sweep the medals in Torino.

"It's difficult because Americans do things far differently," head U.S. freestyle coach Jeff Wintersteen says. "The athletes have rights. They qualify via criteria. It's not the way that some of these other nations do things, where they just take people and say, 'You're going to do this.' It's a challenge for us to keep up with that."

Coaches, though, have good reason beyond China's success to stick with their efforts: The two U.S. women's aerials skiers headed to Torino, Emily Cook and Jana Lindsey, were gymnasts as little girls.

"You need to push through a lot of fear, a lot of physical roadblocks," Cook says of training for aerials, "such as when you get injured or when a trick is actually physically difficult. Young gymnasts learn at a very young age how to push their bodies and how to train."

The year before the Salt Lake City Olympics, the U.S. ski team started a "Come Fly With Us" program, inviting gymnasts, through advertisements in gymnastics magazines, to try aerials during summer programs on water ramps in Lake Placid and Park City. The program in Park City has been a hit, but coaches are having a difficult time convincing the women to try it on snow, Wintersteen says.

"It just takes time. It's an extremely difficult sport," Wintersteen says.

Hedrick has progressed remarkably fast from the first time he stepped on ice and fell - because he mistakenly left his skate guards on. But the possibility he, like Heiden, could win five gold medals can give the false impression that the transition from inline skating to speedskating is easy.

Speedskating takes much more refined technique, say those who have made the switch. "Some of them don't make it," long-track speedskater Chris Witty says. "Everybody thinks you can be Chad Hedrick in six months or a year."

Seeing a guy from Spring, Texas, marching into the Winter Olympics to take on speedskating history can have that kind of wildest-dreams effect.


As I see it, this is a long article that explains: "All training is complementary"

(Message edited by jjones on February 07, 2006)
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