tampabay.com

Plots and players

Every Olympics brings its share of intrigue. The Times' Dave Scheiber gives us a look at five stories you will hear plenty about.

By DAVE SCHEIBER
Published February 10, 2006


Every Olympics brings its share of intrigue. Here's a look at five sports and the plots you will hear plenty about:

FIGURE SKATING DRAMA : Where do we start? First, there's the new judging system. It has forced skaters to reshape their routines the past year, adjusting to a complicated, corruption-proof 10-point scale instead of the familiar but flawed 6.0 system.

Next: Will Kwan be on? Now that she has been granted a place on the team, will she make a long shot run at the gold that has eluded her in two previous Games?

Finally, if you haven't heard of Ben Agosto and Tanith Belbin, you will. They are poised to win only the second ice dance medal for the United States (and first since 1976). But Belbin almost didn't make it in time. The native of Canada became a U.S. citizen on Dec. 31, one day after an immigration bill was signed into law by President Bush, allowing the skater to expedite the citizenship process. It might prove to be the niftiest skating move of 2006.

SKELETAL REMAINS : First, the skeleton team lost gold medal favorite Noelle Pikus-Pace in a freak practice accident in October. Now it has lost coach Tim Nardiello in a sexual harassment controversy. An arbitrator ruled in the coach's favor, but the USOC refuses to credential him for the Games. The lone good news: Top male rider Zach Lund, initially suspended after testing positive for a banned substance (used in his hair replacement treatment), was allowed back on the team.

MILLER TIME?: Bode Miller won the overall World Cup in 2005, but he has struggled since, often finishing behind teammate Daren Rahvles. Miller generated negative publicity recently with his skiing drunk comment on 60 Minutes . Now all eyes are on him as he competes in five events.

SLIDING TO GLORY? Tony Benshoof has a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for the fastest luge time, 88.6 mph. Will he become the first American to medal in the sport? And Todd Hays, who won America's first bobsled medals in 49 years in 2002, has a chance to win the first Olympic gold for the U.S. in the sport.

CANADA'S HOCKEY SHOT : Under the guidance of hockey great Wayne Gretzky, the men's team from Canada reasserted itself in 2002, winning its first gold medal in 50 years. Canada hopes to cement its dominance in Turin, with both the men's and women's teams out to defend their 2002 gold medals.