Olympic curling... almost there

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Practice day here in Pinerolo, and the Palaghiaccio has finally roared to life.

Russell Winston Howard (photo) turns 50 on Monday, when he takes the ice for Canada vs. Andy Kapp's Team Germany.

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Russ is sick as a dog, truth be told. His voice has a rasp usually heard mid-week from an event in Saskatchewan, where dry air usually tears the weight out of the lungs of Mr. Hurry Haaaaarrrrd. But he trooped through today's 80-minute training session and is determined to make his Olympic debut.

Ice techs Leif Ohman of Sweden and Canada's Teo Frans are here for their third straight Games, and the ice looks remarkably consistent with Salt Lake and Nagano: 2.5 feet of curl, and fairly straight on hits. It may creep to 3-3.5 feet of curl by mid-week, but probably no more.

Canada's teams have their own apartments here in the city, dodging the 37-minute bus ride from the Olympic Village in Torino. A few other teams have set themselves up in Pinerolo proper, while the Russian and Japanese women -- and U.S. men -- are doing the daily drive. Pete Fenson's Bemidji squad does have an apartment for daytime use, however.

Cool Opening Ceremonies last night, eh?