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Rings and things

By JOHN ROMANO and Times staff and wire reports
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 13, 2002

U.S. ON A SLIPPERY DOWNHILL SLOPE: Last week, the outlook was not promising for the United States in downhill skiing. This week, it looks worse.

Two-time U.S. champion Chad Fleischer will miss the Olympics after tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee Thursday in Switzerland. He was given painkillers on the scene and flown out in a helicopter.

To make matters worse, Fleischer was on a practice run when he spun out of control and flew into safety netting.

"That's strange," his agent, Jeff Brausch, told the Rocky Mountain News. "Usually, he's just dialing some things in; he's not pushing it, he knows where he stands."

This is the latest, and potentially the most serious, in a string of injuries that have kept Fleischer, 30, out of competition in recent seasons. He tore a rotator cuff two years ago and had a cracked vertebra in his back last season. Brausch said this injury could be career-threatening.

It also is a serious blow to already shaky U.S. hopes. Fleischer, a three-time Olympian, was the second-ranked American behind Daron Rahlves. No other U.S. downhill skier is ranked in the world's top 40.

TO SKI IS HUMAN; TO LUGE IS DIVINE: Ever wanted to race at great speeds with little control? Ever wanted to slide recklessly on ice? USA Luge has just the thing for you.

Hoping to capitalize on the excitement created by the Olympics, USA Luge is giving fans a chance to experience what a luge ride feels like. Beginning this weekend, the organization is holding five clinics at various mountain resorts with three-time Olympian Gordy Sheer giving instructions.

Children 10-17 and adults will be given the opportunity to ride a luge on a simulated snow track in timed races.

The tour got started in Vernon, N.J., and will soon hit resorts in Vermont, New York, New Hampshire and California.

HALT! AND DROP THE FLOWERS: Not that the world has gotten overly dramatic or too litigious, but officials banned flowers from being thrown on the ice at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Los Angeles.

Apparently there were security concerns -- Dynamite caps in the daffodils? -- and fears the staples that hold the cellophane wrapping together may fall on the ice and injure the skaters.

What is shocking is promoters found a way to make these security concerns profitable. Fans were given yellow, stuffed Chevrolet logos to throw on the ice at the end of a performance.

Now that's heartfelt.

Winter Olympics

WHERE: Salt Lake City, Utah, and surrounding areas.

OPENING CEREMONY: Feb. 8.

CLOSING CEREMONY: Feb. 24.

TICKETS: Available at www.saltlake2002.com, www.eBay.com or toll free at 1-800-TICKETS.

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