Sven the kid
When Dutch skating sensation Sven Kramer, 23, looks in the mirror he sees a very relaxed athlete. When Canadians look at Kramer—who won gold in the 5,000-m race in front of 4,500 fans from back home, including Crown Prince Willem Alexander and Princess Maxima—they see another Olympian, Sidney Crosby. The hockey great and Kramer share a huge celebrity in their home countries—and a striking resemblance. Canadian speed skater Christine Nesbitt recalls a time Kramer competed in Calgary and visited a local mall. “All the girls were asking for his autograph, and he thought it was because he was Sven Kramer,” she says. Nesbitt herself is more often recognized in skating-mad Holland than Canada, she says. Expect that to change after Vancouver.
An American in China
She’s no Yao Ming, says Team USA assistant captain Julie Chu, but she sure gets attention in China. After the U.S. women’s hockey opener against China on Feb. 14, Chu, the all-time leading scorer in NCAA women’s history, was mobbed by Chinese media. The final score was 12-1 for the U.S., but it didn’t much matter to the China-supporting crowd, who gave their team an ovation for its lone goal. Chu—whose parents and three siblings all have matching tattoos of the Olympic rings, and of Julie’s number, 13—happily quoted the two Mandarin phrases she knows for Chinese national TV. As luck would have it, they include, “Happy New Year!”
But some of his best outfits are animals
Fears for his safety have forced drama-magnet Johnny Weir into the security-laden Olympic Village. The figure skater had chosen to live in a hotel during the Games after an unhappy experience at the athletes’ lodgings in Turin. But the white fox fur he added to his costume at the U.S. championships last month unleashed a torrent of what he calls “very serious threats” from anti-fur activists. Arranging security at the hotel was too hard. So he’s sharing a suite with ice dancer Tanith Belbin, having made himself at home by putting up b posters and lighting scented candles to mask an odour he says “smelled like wet dog.” That comment won’t win him fans in the PETA crowd.
How does a gal who’s a lousy shot win gold in the biathlon? From the standing position, Germany’s “biathlon beauty,” 23-year-old Magdalena Neuner, rarely makes even 65 per cent of her shots. “She’s fast as heck on skis,” the Wall Street Journal said this week, “but get out of the way when she picks up a gun.” Still, on Tuesday Neuner dominated the women’s 10-km biathlon, thanks to her unbelievable speed. Why doesn’t she drop the rifle altogether and join the cross-country team? She’d have to kiss her star status goodbye. The biathlon is hugely popular in Germany, with biathletes among the highest-paid athletes.
When figure skating coach Ingos Steuer packed for the Olympics, he no doubt needed a big suitcase. Steuer coaches pairs from Germany, Ukraine and Switzerland. Before each pair took to the ice Sunday night, he had to don a new jacket emblazoned with the name of that country. (The German team, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, took bronze.) Not that Steuer is a stranger to playing multiple sides. As a young skater in East Germany, he was an informant for the Stasi, the secret police. Under the code name “Torsten” he ratted out his fellow skaters. In Vancouver he has dodged questions about his past, telling reporters to wait for his tell-all book, Ice Age, later this year.
Like a greying wolf resuming leadership of the pack, Peter Forsberg returned this week to carry the Swedish flag at the opening ceremonies. His presence couldn’t be more welcome. Foppa, as he’s known to European fans, is one of the great warrior kings of his sport, having overcome a series of injuries to play in his fourth Olympics. Canadian fans revere the two-time gold medallist for changing the stereotype of Swedish hockey players as skating cream puffs with his sublime combination of talent and ruggedness. Swedes revere him for scoring a shootout winner against Canada at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer—a moment they commemorated with a postage stamp.
Double the pleasure
Why come all the way to Vancouver to compete in one sport, when you can do two—in one day? On Saturday afternoon Latvian skater Haralds Silovs hit the ice at the Richmond Oval for the 5,000-m race. When it was done, he took an hour to rest, hopped in a car, and booted it across town to the Pacific Coliseum for the 1,500-m short-track event. The feat of two sports in one day made Olympic history, though Silovs, who trains in Calgary, didn’t win anything.