Guns and Roses
Biathlon's Poirees blend skiing, shooting, medals and matrimony
This is an article from the Feb. 16, 2002 issue
For married biathletes Raphael Poiree of France and Liv Grete
Skjelbreid Poiree of Norway, country comes first--in the day, that
From dawn to dusk over the next four days, the Poirees will
traverse Soldier Hollow's training grounds with their respective
delegations. Come nightfall, Raphael quietly leaves French team
housing at the Homestead Resort to join Liv Grete at the
adjacent Inn on the Creek, where the Norwegian team has set up
headquarters. As they cozy up at the B&B deep into the Utah
night, the couple talks "about everything but sport--like our
life, our future together," says Raphael. "One day, maybe I
become Norwegian or she becomes French. We have much to decide
once we get home."
As medal favorites in the biathlon's pursuit competition tomorrow
at Soldier Hollow--the Poirees could become the first married
couple to win individual Olympic golds for different countries.
They met at the 1992 junior world championships, and mutual
admiration blossomed into a long-distance love affair. ("She's
exceptional!" exclaims Raphael. "He's a very nice guy," Liv Grete
says with a giggle.) When not competing, the Poirees, both 27,
live in the Grenoble countryside, where they ski, shoot and
cross-train together for up to four hours each day. Raphael, one
of the best in the world with a .22-caliber rifle, helps his wife
with her shooting technique, while Liv Grete, whom they both
agree is the superior skier, gives him pointers in that
Their competitors good-naturedly call it a marriage of
convenience. "You're training with another world champion!" says
Kristina Sabasteanski of the U.S. "Could there be a better
environment to work in?"
The Poirees' recent success makes that a rhetorical question;
they have combined for nine World Cup wins this season. If both
finish first here in any pursuit competition (Raphael was 10th in
the 20-km individual and ninth in the 10-km sprint; Liv Grete
took silver in the 15-km individual and finished fourth in the
7.5-km sprint), it would mark the third time that the sweethearts
have topped the podium on the same day. They both won gold at the
2000 world championships, just three months before they were
married that May.
While the Poirees compete under different flags, their ambitions
are unified. "We both want to be the best," says Liv Grete, "but
if just one of us medals, it will be like we both have."
Cleared for Takeoff
Haven't had your fill of catty infighting, icy ambition and
charges of competition-fixing? Fear not. Apolo Ohno goes after
his first gold medal tonight.
Battling a flu and riding a wave of publicity good and bad,
Ohno, the 19-year-old short-track speed skater from Seattle,
will begin or end the most audacious quest of these Winter
Olympics with the 1,000 meters at the Salt Lake Ice Center. No
one else came into the Games with a better chance to win four
golds, and though such a feat is unprecedented in short track,
Ohno is hardly intimidated. "It can happen," Ohno says. "There's
no doubt in my mind."
The state of Ohno's mind has mattered ever since 1998, when he
entered the Olympic trials as a favorite, only to buckle under
pressure and finish dead last. Worry about his focus grew after
December's Olympic trials, when Ohno was hit with an
accusation--later found baseless by an arbitrator--that he and a
teammate had fixed a race to insure that Ohno's friend Shani
Davis made the team. (As it turned out, Davis will not compete
in Salt Lake, having been left off the relay because of slow
practice times.) Ohno's coach says the skater's time is at hand.
"He's got total focus; he's absolutely ready," says U.S. speed
skating coach Susan Ellis. "He gets this look in his eye, and
you just know he's on."
He certainly is capable: Ohno took home two golds, a silver and
a fourth-place finish in the 1,500 meters at the world
championships a year ago. As the crash of a South Korean racer
in the 5,000 relay on Wednesday again showed, however,
short-track speed skating is nothing like long track and its
lonely battle against the clock. In short track dozens of
variables conspire against perfection, and one bump, one
stripped edge, one wrong move by another skater can spell doom.
"If it can be done," says former U.S. coach Patrick Wentland,
"Apolo will do it."
The one sure thing is that plenty will watch. A sellout crowd of
15,394 filled the Ice Center when Ohno went in the preliminaries
on Wednesday, proving that the combination of Olympic ambition
and scandal remains irresistible. "I was at the men's figure
skating finals [Thursday] night, and there were a whole lot more
people in the stands for us," says Ellis. "Right now, I'm told,
we're the hottest ticket in town." --S.L. Price
Their hockey team (currently 2-2, after losing to Russia
yesterday) is one of the surprises of the Games, but sports
officials in Belarus are flame-broiling mad at U.S. organizers
for their delegation's medalless performance. Their athletes,
they claim, are being slowed by American fast food. Caterers at
the Olympic Village insist they offer an extensive menu, but the
Belarussians aren't biting. "Our sportsmen are getting
sandwiches ... and various hamburgers," deputy sports minister
Alexander Grigorov beefed to Reuters. "They need normal meat,
fresh fruit juices, hot soup." --Mark Beech
It is late January and Stephan Eberharter of Austria has just
won a World Cup Super G race on the Hahnenkamm course in
Kitzbuhel, Austria. The next day he will win the Hahnenkamm
downhill, the crown jewel in a magical season during which
Eberharter has won nine World Cup races in three disciplines
(downhill, Super G and giant slalom) and finished on the podium
He should be the toast of his ski-crazy nation, yet an asterisk
hangs over the 32-year-old Eberharter's head like a full, winter
moon. From the 1997-98 through 2000-01 seasons, when Hermann
Maier ruled Alpine ski racing, Eberharter won six World Cup
races and finished second to Maier 11 times. In August, Maier
nearly lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident, knocking him
out for the season. In his absence Eberharter has
exploded--which is precisely the problem. After finishing third
in last Sunday's downhill, he is favored to win today's Super G
at Snowbasin. If he wins, expect someone to invoke the
The Maier issue is the last straw for Eberharter, a brilliant
athlete who can be charming and funny. (Asked about his early
ski days, he says, "Small town in the mountains, skied very
young, became better ... you have heard it all before from many
other Austrians.") Yet he will not forgive the Austrian public
and media for abandoning him when a torn ACL in 1995 got him
dropped from the national team and forced him to claw his way
back through the Europa Cup Triple A circuit. He had been
precocious, winning two world championships (Super G and
combined) at age 21. But by '97, as Maier began to rise,
Eberharter was regarded as washed-up. Now that he rocks again,
he swallows praise as if it were kerosene.
In press conferences he says the right things in a monotone. For
a smaller audience his words are different and more emotional.
"It's all bull----," Eberharter told SI in Kitzbuhel. "The
media, the public, it's all bull----. You are doing well, they
lift you up. When you're down, they hit like with a hammer."
It will be a shock if Eberharter wins neither the Super G nor
the GS. It will also be a shock if nobody tosses Maier's name in
his face. But consider what Olympic downhill winner Fritz Strobl
said earlier this winter: "If Hermann was here, he might not be
winning so many races." Eberharter should know it, and believe
it. --Tim Layden
Q: Do speed skaters wear anything underneath that skintight suit?
A: For everyone's sake, we should certainly hope so. Speed
skaters are looking for any edge to make them go faster, hence
the seemingly painted-on duds. However, it's imperative that
speed skaters wear something comfortable beneath the suit. For
competitions held on an indoor track, most skaters will wear
only underwear beneath their suits. When racing on an outdoor
track, they may add more coverage underneath depending on the
temperature. "Some athletes wear T-shirts as well," says Susan
Ellis, coach of the U.S. Olympic short-track speed skating team,
"but I don't think you'll ever find a skater who will wear
nothing under the suit." --Elizabeth Newman
Stars on Ice
The story of the pairs skating judging scandal that has unfolded
this week has it all: glamour and intrigue, heartbreak and
redemption, all played out on an international stage. Surely
it's only a matter of time before someone in
Hollywood--conspiracy auteur Oliver Stone?--green-lights a
script for Skategate (alternate titles: The Ice Storm, Judge
Dread, To Russia with Love, There's Something About
Marie-Reine). Here's how we'd cast this ice-blockbuster.
As Jamie Sale, who left the rink racked with tears ...
... Jennifer Connelly, who shined in The Rocketeer.
As David Pelletier, Medals Plaza party boy ...
... Ryan Phillippe, Gosford Park pretty boy.
As Elena Berezhnaya, regally blonde Russian ...
... Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde starlet.
As pairs skating strong man Anton Sikharulidze ...
... Dirty Dancing showman Patrick Swayze.
As judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne, who lorded over the rink ...
... Aussie Cate Blanchett, a queen in The Lord of the Rings.
As ISU head, Italian Ottavio Cinquanta ...
... Out-of-his-head Italian Roberto Benigni.
For the record
Yesterday's winners, notable results and a look at the overall
the medal stand
LEADERS [GOLD] [SILVER] [BRONZE] TOTAL
Germany 5 7 4 16
United States 3 6 5 14
Norway 5 5 0 10
Austria 1 2 7 10
Russia 3 4 2 9
France 2 2 1 5
Switzerland 3 0 1 4
Finland 2 1 1 4
Italy 2 1 1 4
Canada 2 0 2 4
Sweden 0 1 2 3
Spain 2 0 0 2
The Netherlands 1 1 0 2
South Korea 1 1 0 2
Estonia 1 0 1 2
Japan 0 1 1 2
Poland 0 1 1 2
Croatia 1 0 0 1
Bulgaria 0 0 1 1
China 0 0 1 1
Czech Republic 0 0 1 1
Women's 5-km Combined Pursuit
[GOLD] Olga Danilova
[SILVER] Larissa Lazutina
[BRONZE] Beckie Scott
[GOLD] Patric-Fritz Leitner and Alexander Resch
[SILVER] Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin
UNITED STATES 1:26.216
[BRONZE] Chris Thorpe and Clay Ives
United States 1:26.220
Men's Parallel Giant Slalom
[GOLD] Philipp Schoch
[SILVER] Richard Richardsson
[BRONZE] Chris Klug
Women's Parallel Giant Slalom
[GOLD] Isabelle Blanc
[SILVER] Karine Ruby
[BRONZE] Lidia Trettel
France's Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat finished first in
the compulsory portion of the competition, ahead of Russia's
Irina Lobacheva and Ilia Averbukh and reigning world champions
Barbara Fusar Poli and Maurizio Margaglio of Italy.
Canada's attempts to end a 50-year gold medal drought got off to
a rocky start with a 5-2 loss to Sweden. Mats Sundin led Sweden
with two goals. In other action Russia debuted with a 6-4 victory
over Belarus as Boris Mironov and Sergei Fedorov scored
third-period goals in a 1:43 span.
At a joint IOC-International Skating Union press conference,
Olympic officials announced that Canada's Jamie Sale and David
Pelletier would be awarded a gold medal in pairs figure skating.
The ISU also indefinitely suspended Marie-Reine Le Gougne, the
French judge who says she was pressured to vote for Russia's
Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze (who will now share the
gold with the Canadians).
Where are they now?
Ross Rebagliati SNOWBOARDING
OLYMPIC HIGHLIGHT: In 1998 he won the giant slalom but was
stripped of his gold medal by the IOC after he tested positive
for marijuana; arbitrators reinstated him as champion
Rebagliati would like to be remembered as the first person to
win an Olympic snowboarding gold medal. He knows, however, that
his legacy will be significantly more complicated, that he
confirmed the negative stereotypes about the sport he loves when
trace amounts of marijuana were detected in his system during a
routine drug test. Three days after he won it, the medal was
taken from him. "A lot of people probably weren't surprised," he
says. "There's the idea that snowboarding's a bad-boy sport. If
I had been a figure skater, it would have been more of a shock."
Rebagliati got his medal back two days later after a panel of
arbitrators determined that marijuana was not banned by the IOC.
(It is now.) "It wouldn't have mattered if I was burning one at
the top of the run--it wasn't in the rules," he says.
Now 30 and retired from racing, Rebagliati lives in his native
Whistler, B.C., with his girlfriend, Jennifer Friesen. In
addition to endorsing Corum watches and Arc-Teryx outdoor gear,
he's on the committee for Vancouver's bid for the 2010 Winter
Games and is working on a documentary film on the history of
snowboarding. He rides the mountains around Whistler as often as
he can, and he still ruminates on his unique place in Olympic
history. "It was so intense," he says. "I mean, who cares what
one person thinks? But a whole planet? I think about it every
day." --Mark Beech
picture is worth a thousand words." --MICHELLE KWAN on the use
of instant replay in figure skating