By DAVE SCHEIBER
Published February 10, 2006
1. The Comeback : Freestyle skier Emily Cook will never forget the 2002 Olympics. She watched firsthand from a wheelchair, facing the possibility that she might never walk normally again, let alone ski. Three weeks earlier, Cook had made a disastrous crash-landing during practice, shattering bones in both feet and tearing every ligament in each. But Cook refused to quit. After numerous reconstructive surgeries, and often unbearable pain, Cook, 26, returned to the slopes last year.
2. Speed Racer : He rides a custom Harley, was a 1993 jet ski world champ in the expert division and spent the summer of 2004 riding on a celebrity motocross circuit. But most times, Daron Rahlves just likes to speed downhill as one of America's all-time great Alpine skiers. While Bode Miller gets most of the ink, Rahlves has been taking care of business. fifth in the World Cup standings, he will compete in the downhill, Super G and giant slalom.
3. Knockout: Long before Todd Hays picked up a bobsled, he got his kicks as a Texas tough guy. He was the 1993 U.S. Kickboxing champion, a k a "Hollywood Hays." Hays, 6 feet 3, 235 pounds, also put his muscles to use as a linebacker for the University of Tulsa. He failed in two bids with the CFL but tried bobsledding on a whim when a recruiting tour came through his home near San Antonio. In 2002, he took silver in the four-man bobsled, ending a 49-year medal drought for the U.S. Hays, 36, remains America's No.1 driver in the four-man and two-man events.
4. AS COOL AS PAUL AND BABE: They are the Curl Girls, sisters Cassie and Jamie Johnson from the northern Minnesota town of Bemidji. The city is known as the "birthplace" of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. It's also the U.S. capital of curling. Cassie, 24, and Jamie, 25, played the sport from early childhood, learning from their parents. Now they are the heart of a very good U.S team. The women's squad, with Cassie as skip (akin to a quarterback), took the silver medal in the recent World Championships.
5. Hot moves, cool movie : Travis Cabral is a movie mogul. Or make that a moguls skier who has made one movie and hopes to make lots more. Cabral, 22, winner of the 2003 World Cup crown, made and premiered a supernatural thriller last year called Shadow in the Trees (see shadowinthetrees.com). He's hoping to get the movie to the Sundance Film Festival and has started work on other scripts. His most scene impressive yet, though, was in 1999 when he became the youngest U.S. moguls champion at 15.
6. Quick, somebody call Geraldo Rivera : Alpine skier Julia Mancuso said at a news conference that her mother's grandfather was a liquor runner for legendary gangster Al Capone. A story that can't be questioned is the one about Mancuso's feats on the slopes. At the 2005 Worlds, she won the bronze in the Super-G and giant slalom and was the only U.S. woman to medal. Her Italian background is a hit with fans in Italy; they fly the country's flag when she competes.
7. "Kill It and Cook It" : Ever get a craving for caribou stew? Rachel Steer, America's top female biathlete the past three years, understands. The Alaska native, who has done her share of hunting growing up, has plenty of recipes. Steer's dream - in addition to winning an Olympic medal - is to host a show on the Food Network called Kill It and Cook It .
8. Send in the Seals : When the U.S. freestyle ski team set out to toughen up for the Olympics, it turned to the toughest bunch around, the Navy SEALs. Last May, the skiers spent a week with the SEALs, freezing in the Pacific Ocean, carrying 300-pound boats over their heads for three-plus miles, running until they dropped from exhaustion. How hard was it? Listen to gonzo freestyler Jeret "Speedy" Peterson describe it: "I will never be cold again. I will never be tired. I will never say I can't do this - because they didn't allow us to stop."
9. The Flying Tomato : He's the dude with the long, red hair that goes flying when he goes airborne: hence snowboarder Shaun White's nickname, "The Flying Tomato." White, 19, is the first athlete to compete in both the Summer and Winter X-Games (skateboarding and snowboarding) and was ESPN's 2003 Espy Award winner as Best Action Sports Athlete. He tuned up for Turin by sweeping five World Cup snowboard halfpipe events.
10. Miami Ice : Jennifer Rodriguez lives in the cold of Utah, but the tropical sun of Miami is never far from her heart. While beachgoers in her home city work on their bronze tans, the double-bronze speedskater from 2002 has a shade of gold on her mind now. Rodriguez became the first Cuban-American to compete in the Winter Games in '98, and first to medal in '02. J-Rod, 29, has been on a tear since her days as a champion rollerskater and in-liner. She heads to Turin as the long track 2005 world sprint champ, competing in the 1,000, 1,500, 500 and team pursuit.