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Rings and Things

By JOHN ROMANO, Times staff and wire reports
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 27, 2002

NOT HIS NO. 1 CONCERN: A week ago, Todd Hays led the World Cup standings for the four-man bobsled. A week from now, he probably will not. The choice was his.

The former college football player from Del Rio, Texas, voluntarily took a break from the World Cup season because he wanted to arrive early in Park City, Utah, to begin preparing for the Olympics.

Hays said it was not easy walking away from the No. 1 ranking, but he is intent on winning the first U.S. Olympic medal in the bobsled since 1956.

"I was not confident with my races during the Olympic trials," Hays said in a conference call. "I did not compete as well as I would have liked to have, so I knew I had some problem areas to correct on the track. This is the Olympic year in Salt Lake City. This is the opportunity of 10 lifetimes. I had to make the decision to come back. Instead of being No. 1 in the World Cup standing, just to be No. 1 in the Olympics."

Hays has taken his crew to four World Cup gold medals, four silvers and one bronze this season.

JUST A BIT OF BULL: An American animal rights activist was arrested in Lausanne, Switzerland, last week after chaining himself to a door at the International Olympic Committee headquarters. Sean Gifford was protesting a rodeo planned for the Olympic Arts Festival Feb. 9-11 in Salt Lake City.

To call attention to what People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals calls inhumane conditions at rodeos, Gifford was dressed as a cow.

He was promptly roped, broken and hogtied.

MR. FIX-IT TO THE RESCUE: In the end, there was not enough evidence to substantiate claims that the outcome of a U.S. short-track speed-skating qualifying race was predetermined.

And, just like that, the USOC got itself out of a nasty little fix.

The pun, by the way, was intended.

Even though evidence was supposedly scarce, there is ample room for suspicion about a race that had a peculiar order of finish.

Nevertheless, the USOC was not going to be happy if Apolo Ohno got booted off the Olympic team two weeks before the Games. Ohno has a chance to win four gold medals and emerge as the biggest U.S. star next month.

Ohno was not accused of cheating to win a race, but rather lagging behind to lose a race, and blocking other competitors so his close friend, Shani Davis, could get the win he needed to make the team.

"This unfortunate situation and the questioning of my character by a few specific people has been trying," Ohno said in a statement.

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