Monday, February 23, 1997
Best and worst of Games

The Cincinnati Enquirer

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NAGANO, Japan - The Olympic flame has stopped flickering, but it is never too late to hold some feet to the fire. Before the 18th Winter Games fade from memory, some of the participants deserve another bow. Others have earned another boo.

Here follows one final medals ceremony. Bring your own anthem.

After a terrifying spill in the downhill, Austria's Hermann Maier won two gold medals.
(AP photo)
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BEST PERFORMER: Hermann Maier, Austria. Three days after surviving the most spectacular crash landing in Olympic skiing, The Herminator won the first of two gold medals. He deserves a third gold, for guts.

WORST PERFORMER: Alberto Tomba, Italy. The former king of the slalom is so far over the hill he'd need a chair lift to make it back to mediocrity. Didn't finish the giant slalom. Didn't start the second heat of the regular slalom. Didn't retire when it was time.

BEST PERFORMER: The U.S. women's hockey team. Won the gold medal for goosebumps with their inspired play and their touching celebration after beating Canada for the first-ever women's Olympic hockey title. Even Shannon Miller, the contrary Canadian coach, said she was moved by the moment when U.S. captain Cammi Granato received her gold medal.

WORST PERFORMER: The U.S. men's hockey team. Also known as: Ugly Americans. First they stunk up the joint, and then they trashed their apartments in the Athletes Village. Professionalism at its most puerile. Unconscionable. Intolerable. Humiliating. Until the National Hockey League gets some answers, and names some names, how about a boycott?

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The U.S. women's hockey team achieved official hero's status by appearing on a Wheaties box, which will be in stores the first week of March.
(AP photo)
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BEST UNDER PRESSURE (MALE): Dominik Hasek, Czech Republic. A great stretch of clutch goaltending against the greatest collection of hockey talent ever assembled at the Olympics. In successive games, Hasek stopped the Americans, stifled the Canadians in a shootout and shut out the Russians for the gold medal. The Puck Stops Here.

BEST UNDER PRESSURE (FEMALE): Tara Lipinski, United States. The tiniest of Olympians proved to be one of the toughest, and became the youngest figure skating champion in Olympic history. Michelle Kwan left Lipinski little margin for error in the long program, but she needed none.

WORST UNDER PRESSURE: The U.S. Olympic Committee. USOC officials knew about the damage the hockey players had done to their rooms and the dangers to which they had exposed other athletes, and early enough to act. Yet they allowed the players to flee the country (and possible prosecution) without answering for their crimes. Where I come from, that's aiding and abetting a felony.

Tara Lipinski
Tara Lipinski, flanked by her coaches, reacts after hearing her free skate scores.
(AP photo)
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BEST NEW SPORT: Half-pipe snowboard. For sheer entertainment value, it was hard to beat. For American interests, it meant two more medals.

WORST NEW SPORT: Hash-pipe snowboard. O, cannabis. Woe, Canada. Still, Ross Rebagliati's drug test should do wonders for tourism in Whistler, B.C. A lot of narcotics agents will want to see all that secondhand marijuana smoke firsthand.

BEST QUOTE: From retiring Russian cross-country skiier Elena Vaeble: ''As all people on this earth, I walk as a zebra with alternating white and black stripes. It's possible that I am passing through my black stripe this year.''

WORST QUOTE: From Canadian curling coach Mike Harris: ''There are 40 teams in Canada that could be considered gold medal favorites.'' The cocky Canadians finished second to Switzerland.

BEST QUESTION: Where can I get one of these heated toilet seats?

WORST QUESTION: From unidentified Norwegian journalist to American hockey player Brian Leetch: ''How do you like my hat?'' Leech's answer: ''I think you'd have a sweaty head.''

BEST SINGING: Picabo Street, United States. Belting out ''The Star-Spangled Banner.'' So swelled with pride, so full of feeling, you worried she might explode.

WORST SINGING: The Canadian women's hockey team, screeching, ''Like A Virgin'' at the Police '90 karaoke bar. They couldn't carry a tune with a wheelbarrow.

BEST SCENE: Opening Ceremonies. The parade of nations begins with Takanonami, the sumo wrestler, carrying a small child on his shoulders before the Greek delegation. A simple, sweet reminder of our common ground with strange cultures.

WORST SCENE: Opening Ceremonies. Akebono, the champion sumo wrestler, from behind.

BEST DRESSED: Georg Hackl, Germany. The Lord of the Luge beat the pants off everyone, and the whiny Americans had the temerity to blame it on his shoes.

WORST DRESSED: Ilia Kulik, Russia. The men's figure skating champion appeared for his short program in an ensemble intended to suggest wings. He showed up for his long program in a spotted, bright yellow shirt. I thought he looked like a neon giraffe. Someone else compared him to a taxi that had collided with a cow. He had to be good to win with that getup.

BEST OBSCURE ATHLETE: Bjorn Daehlie, Norway. With three gold medals and one silver, the cross-country skiier became the most decorated Winter Olympian in history. He now owns 12 Olympic medals, eight of them gold, and he can still walk down the street unrecognized.

BEST OBSCURE ACTRESS: Pasha Grishuk, the Russian ice dancer, yearns to go Hollywood like her idol, Sharon Stone. ''In the next four years, I want to win an Oscar,'' she said. ''I prefer action movies, of course. I prefer to have a leading role. I assume I will have to take acting lessons.''

CULTURE SHOCK AWARD: Bus drivers wearing white gloves. Cab drivers in business suits. Exquisite manners. Unfailing politeness. ''People were so friendly,'' said Gordy Sheer, the Ohio State luger. ''I couldn't comprehend it. Being American, you're not used to that.''

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