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Tuesday, January 31, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ron Judd

Unwrapping the Athletes Village — something for everyone

Seattle Times staff columnist

Kelly Stephens expects it to be something like "Christmas." Apolo Ohno insists it's really not as much of a major hookup spot as we've been led to believe. And the rest of us, not surprisingly, will never get anywhere near it without a mountain of security clearances and several disapproving Aunt Bee escorts.

We're speaking, of course, about the Athletes Village in Turin, Italy, which will go from an empty, campuslike structure to a teeming city of more than 2,000 athletes in the next week or so.

Stephens, 23, a Seattle native who plays forward on the United States women's hockey team, can't wait to get there for her first Olympic experience.

"It'll be sweet," she predicts. "For me, the great thing will be just being around all those different athletes from different countries, speaking different languages, with different styles. I love that. It'll be kind of like a star-stuck thing."

Plus, she has already heard the Rumors of Swag: Boxes of official duds and gear U.S. team members are supposed to wear for different occasions.

"It'll be like Christmas," she says. "I'm really excited."

Ohno, also 23, and a favorite to walk away from Turin with Olympic medals to supplement his collection (gold and silver) from Salt Lake City, will spend some time, there, too.

Countdown to Turin: 10 days

Ohno has a girlfriend, so he's not supposed to think about such things, let alone discuss them. But, pestered by a reporter who, just for the record, brought up the subject and would not drop it, Ohno tried to put to rest rumors (often fueled by pre-Games releases of statistics on such things as number of condoms distributed) that the Athletes Village is the world's greatest international, hot-bod meat market.

"People tell me that," says a chuckling Ohno, who spent much of the 2002 Olympics under fairly tight watch in a hotel, thanks to team illnesses and security measures. "I don't think it is."

But he's heard the tales, as well, he says, responding with some feigned indignation.

"I'm like, 'What? Are you kidding me? These guys are respectable athletes!' "

If it really is Club Med for the finely sculpted, skin-suited crowd, Ohno says he's just oblivious — or perhaps on the wrong guest lists.

"Maybe it's the summer athletes, not the winter athletes," he says, laughing. "I might look into this some more once I get over there."

As would we, if they would let us in. Stay tuned.

A little bright coat of snow

News bulletin: It's snowing on the Winter Olympics.

You might expect that, but it came as a bit of a surprise last week in Turin, a valley-floor city that got a sizeable — by most accounts unusual — shellacking of snow. Early arriving journos and U.S. Olympic Committee officials described water running ankle-deep in city streets in the subsequent melt.

But up in Sestriere and other Alps venues above 7,000 feet, the snow is staying, with large drifts collecting against buildings and crews scrambling to tamp the stuff down into useable race-course shape before the alpine events begin with the men's downhill Feb. 12.

And to think that, as recently as two weeks ago, organizers were sweating bullets over the prospect of a snow drought in the alpine areas, most of which are equipped with snowmaking gear.

They might soon learn the lesson of many other winter host cities: A little bright coat of snow before the Olympics is a wonderful thing for TV. Huge, unstoppable dumps of it during the Olympics can bring chaos to already-shaky transportation schedules, throwing the entire operation into chaos. See: Nagano, 1998, et al.

The trial of the century

The security was so tight at an ice rink in California last week, you might have thought Michelle Kwan was reading aloud secret National Security Administration wiretapping plans or perhaps Mike Holmgren's play list for the Super Bowl.

Alas, it was only Kwan doing what she does, skating in front of a select audience of U.S. Figure Skating officials and a couple of hand-picked journalists.

The "trial" was a condition Kwan offered up in seeking to make the U.S. Olympic team by petition, rather than competing at the recent U.S. Championships in St. Louis, because of a groin injury.

She told figure skating officials she'd run through her routines for them before leaving for Turin, to ensure that she was healed and her routines were up to snuff.

She did exactly that last week, to everyone's satisfaction. But figure-skating officials, no strangers to silly secrecy and scandal, decided chaos — or at least some major-league second-guessing — might ensue if they opened the doors of the trial skate to hordes of slobbering media, let alone the public.

So they selected two reporters, Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times and Nancy Armour of The Associated Press, to witness the hallowed event and file "pool reports" for everyone else's use.

This touched off something of an ethics crisis at AP, which reportedly at first wouldn't agree on conditions that included an embargo on writing about the performance until after the judges made their go/no-go announcement.

But it all worked out somehow. Kwan jumped and spun, the journos witnessed and took excellent notes, the judges were impressed, and the whole figure-skating world was happily skating along on its normal axis by the end of the day.

A lot of people trashed Kwan and/or U.S. Figure Skating for allowing her on the team through an injury waiver. But we repeat: It's a no-brainer.

If she goes to Turin and competes, she'll draw millions of fans to the event. And if she wins, it'll be an all-time-great Olympic moment. Bring it on, we say.

Ron Judd: 206-464-8280 or rjudd@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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