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Rings and Things

By JOHN ROMANO and Times staff and wire reports
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 6, 2002

WONDERING, WORRYING AND WAITING: Luge team member Becky Wilczak is within a few weeks of fulfilling her Olympic dream, but she is not sure if she will be able to compete.

Her father, Tom, has auto-immune hepatitis and is in serious need of a liver transplant. His physician said medications normally used to combat the disease have failed and Wilczak is at the highest priority on the transplant list.

Wilczak said she is not sure what she will do if her father's health worsens or if a transplant becomes available during the Olympics.

"I hope that situation doesn't come up," Wilczak said during a teleconference. "If it does, we'll cross that bridge when we get there. Right now I can't tell you how I would deal with that situation ... but as I've stated earlier, my gut feeling would be that I would want to be with my family, but I would first talk with my family and coaches and figure out where I should be."

The Wilczaks decided to talk about the situation last week because news of Tom's health leaked out. Wilczak, a bronze medalist at the 2001 World Championships, said she is hopeful she can raise awareness of the disease.

Her father hopes he can be at Salt Lake City next month. "I have reservations, airline tickets, I've rented a house, the family is going, the grandkids will be there," he said. "We're hoping."

HELP (DESPERATELY) WANTED: Brian Shimer made his fifth Olympic team in the bobsled, though he did not take the easiest path. A month ago, one of his push athletes was injured and he had no one to fill the spot. So Shimer placed an ad in USA Today looking for potential bobsledders. Dan Steele, a former decathlete, was one of a dozen applicants and ended up on Shimer's second-place team in the trials.

ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER CONTROVERSY: Salt Lake City officials have been preparing for protesters outside venues. Maybe they should worry about the athletes inside the venues.

Days after the bobsled team was embroiled in controversy over the breakup of two long-term teams just before the selection process, there is an accusation by a speed skater that the trials were fixed. U.S. Speedskating has asked an attorney to investigate the claims by Tommy O'Hare, and the USOC wants to be updated by Tuesday.

O'Hare, a 1988 Olympian, was knocked off the team when Shani Davis won a 1,000-meter short-track final and jumped ahead of O'Hare in the points standings. At issue is whether World Cup champion Apolo Anton Ohno purposefully allowed Davis to win. Ohno and Davis are close friends and Ohno admittedly raced conservatively.

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