Bring some ice and snow into your life


Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Super Bowl will soon be over. Major League Baseball not yet in spring swing. Basketball dunking and dribbling along, still well shy of postseason delirium. There is a gap. OK, OK ... cool your pistons, gearheads. I've not forgotten that Daytona horsepower is about to be at full vroom.
Still, for many sports-intrigued Americans, the calendar is nearing a stretch that runs a quart or two low on championship competition. An opportune time for the Winter Olympics, serving an iceboxful of exercises that most Yanks seldom see ... offering a plethora of gifted performers about whom we know little.
Not every sizzling sports practitioner on Earth is a quarterback, shortstop or point guard. Beyond the U.S.-megahyped Bradys, Jeters and Iversons, there are continental subjects who can at least temporarily Yank-magnetize, not unlike the swatch of appeal earned by French-fried biker dude Lance Armstrong.
So, how about it? Let's give the Torino (or is it Turin?) Olympics a look-see on NBC and television partners (CNBC, USA, MSNBC). Be prepared to be surprised; becoming enthused if only for a few days. Also to be entertained, maybe awed and even captivated during a Feb. 10-26 bombardment of snow, ice and Italian Alps.
I remember my first time. As a Florida journalist headed for the Winter Olympics, people constantly ask me, "Why would a sports columnist from a Tampa Bay newspaper spend three weeks in a frigid, unfamiliar climate to write about luge, speed skating, cross-country skiing, biathlon and other stuff so removed from a tropical lifestyle?"
Soon, everybody knew. It was 1980 in Lake Placid, N.Y., where history's mightiest sports upset would occur. A collection of little-known, lightly respected U.S. college boys pulled off the "Miracle On Ice," outscoring a Soviet Union hockey team widely accepted as the best ever, professional or amateur.
Upon my return to Florida, comments and queries came en masse from a wealth of sources, including football-baseball-basketball nut cases who had become "Miracle" mavens; and from citizens who tend to follow zero athletics but had become mesmerized by the depth, power and political ramifications of an accomplishment taller than Everest and deeper than the Pacific.
With that flood of feedback, I was sold and went mushing on to further Winter Games including a unique 1984 expedition to politically queasy Sarajevo, a 1988 experience in Calgary (remember the double-tumble traumas of U.S. speed skater Dan Jansen?) plus an unforgettable February 1992 in the French Alps near Albertville.
Did I mention the scenery? Torino-Turin is cool. In recent quadrennials, hundreds of U.S. journalists have become regulars at the Winters, and TV coverage is massive. We await a heroic line from a broadcaster that compares to '80 when Al Michaels of ABC shouted, "Do you believe in miracles?" Bob Costas and mates will search for reasons to exclaim in Italy.
"I don't pretend to be an expert on most things we will be covering," Costas told me 10 days ago, just prior to catching a flight to Milan. "My role is to be a guide through a four-hour nightly NBC package. We will work at familiarizing American viewers with the scene, the sports and the more attractive athletes.
"For those eager to see in-depth coverage on sports with somewhat less popularity in the United States, cable television becomes a major player." MSNBC, USA and CNBC - plus programming in Spanish on Telemundo - will provide a multitude of hours on everything that competes on well-groomed flakes or frozen water.
"Figure skating is always a huge deal," Costas added. "Winter Olympics frequently create new heroes in America, even in rather obscure events ... or at least some unforgettable characters, like (British ski jumper) Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards who managed, quite flamboyantly, to not get himself killed when flying off a ramp 18 years ago at Calgary."
NBC is using the Italian spelling - "Torino" - of the host city. In English, it's Turin, for which some media outlets, including the New York Times, have opted. "Our people think Torino is more catchy," Costas said.
OK old friend, but tell me Bobby, in the summer of 1960, what if TV had gone with "Roma Olympics?" Does it matter? Or how about the 1972 scene of ghastly Olympic terrorism; how would it have worked if ABC anchor Jim McKay - the Costas of his time - had kept calling it "the Muenchen Games?"
Potato, po-tah-tuh? Twenty-six years ago, as a Florida reporter bound for midwinter Lake Placid, my newspaper sent me to an Army-Navy surplus store in Tampa where I bought thick British commando turtlenecks, boots called mukluks, heavyweight long johns, woolen headgear and gloves that must've come from Siberia.
It's a body shock. Introduced to the joys of awakening on subzero morns, the adjustments became more than worth it, watching Eric Heiden speed-skate to a record five gold medals at Placid, and being in a cramped Adirondacks arena for "Miracle" Saturday. I would store, then repack much of the same gear to go writing for the St. Petersburg Times on Olympics in Yugoslavia, Canada and high-altitude France.
Worth it? Abso-frosty-lutely! Check it out, sunbirds. You can reach columnist Hubert Mizell by e-mail at mizell3@cox.net

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