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Fun on the ice and snow


Fun on the ice and snow

While it may not require the technical skills of a slalom skier, skeleton isn't for sissies

Beloved by many, misunderstood by some, the Winter Olympics stands as a quixotic younger brother to the Summer Games. If recent trends hold, fewer viewers will tune in for the 2006 Winter Games that were scheduled to kick off in Torino, Italy, on Feb. 10 than watched 2004's Summer Games. Figure skating, one of the most popular Winter Olympic sports, wraps up Feb. 24, two days before the closing ceremonies. But that isn't the only thing worth watching.

Noted Winter Games fan and comedian Jerry Seinfeld likes the obscurity of some of the Winter Olympics sports. Take the biathlon-the sport that combines cross-country skiing and shooting a rifle. "How many alpine snipers are into this?" he asks. Or take his strange, if ill-informed, fascination with sled sports like luge and the skeleton. "It's just a human being hanging on for their life, this is the whole sport. Just ahhhhhhhhh . . . 'Oh, he pointed his toes . . . oh, this guy is a tremendous athlete,'" Mr. Seinfeld quipped in his 1990s comedy routines. "The luge is the only sport I've ever seen that you could have people competing in it against their will. And it would be exactly the same."

The TV star's joke applies to the skeleton, too. While it may not require the technical skills of a slalom skier, skeleton isn't for sissies. The sliders, as they're known, careen down the course at speeds up to 85 mph on a 3-foot-long sled while their chin hovers just 2 inches off the ground.

Sliders make two runs on the course, provided their bodies and sleds survive. Since there isn't a steering mechanism on the skeleton sled (as opposed to the steered luge), sliders have focused mostly on how to make it through the course intact. That could make for some impactful and entertaining television during the two days of skeleton competitions on Feb. 16 and 17.

The low-fidelity nature of the skeleton may be one reason why the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency refused to suspend American slider Zach Lund, who tested positive for a steroid-masking agent in November. Mr. Lund, a favorite to medal, said he tested positive for Finasteride because of a hair restoration product he had been using since 1999.

Once he failed the test, he stopped taking the hair treatment. "If this was God's way of telling me that He wants me to go bald, I get the message." Just weeks before the start of the Winter Games, the no-frills, zero-tolerance USADA issued a release, saying they believed Mr. Lund and refused to suspend him for the games. They may well have wondered: What steroid could help you in the skeleton, anyway?

Story Update: American slider Zach Lund won't be competing in the 2006 Winter Olympics after all. The skeleton racer had been cleared by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency up until last week even though he had tested positive for a steroids masking agent. He says he got it from hair treatment medicine (Propecia). And though the World Anti-Doping agency says it believes Lund isn't a doper, last Friday they decided to overrule the U.S. organization and suspend him anyway.

Around the Horn

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