U.S. poised for record medal haul | TahoeDailyTribune.com

U.S. poised for record medal haul

Steve Yingling, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Raging with patriotism, familiar surroundings comforting them and feeding off all the talent surrounding them are reasons why American athletes are poised to put on their most impressive showing ever in the Winter Olympics.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, many athletes are talking about their country first before speaking about themselves. That’s not only refreshing but this prevailing attitude means that American athletes are determined to succeed for unselfish reasons.

“I’ve always been proud to race and represent my country,” U.S. Ski Team member Jonna Mendes of South Lake Tahoe recently told the Tribune. “As patriotic as I’ve always been, it’s nothing compared to what I feel now.

“I’ve never been so proud to be an American and representing the U.S. in the Games again would be one of the biggest honors of my life. I can’t imagine anything much better than being an athlete competing for the U.S. … other than medaling.”

Of course this sense of we instead of me could overwhelm the Americans with pressure. But that tension should be eased by the rabid support they’ll receive at each venue — that is if their supporters can reach these sites in time because of the thorough security checkpoints.

Even if these Games were staged somewhere in Europe, this talented U.S. team would be capable of bringing home the mother lode of gold. The Park City location has been a second home to many of the Olympians for the past few years, giving them a significant edge of feeling right at home once the Games start Feb. 9.

No matter how much pressure the Americans feel, their athleticism should take over at some point. In past Winter Games, Americans have been satisfied to come away with a few medals. In fact, a modest 13 medals is the American record.

However, this collection of U.S. Olympians resembles a ensemble of George Steinbrenner free-agent acquisitions: aerialist Eric Bergoust, figure skater Michelle Kwan, moguls skier Jonny Moseley, speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno, moguls skier Jeremy Bloom, snowboarder Shannon Bahrke, Alpine skier Bode Miller, Alpine skier Daron Rahlves, Alpine skier Kristina Koznick, skeleton racer Lincoln DeWitt, snowboarder Shannon Dunn, Nordic combined athlete Todd Lodwick, snowboarder Ross Powers, snowboarder Danny Kass and bobsledder Todd Hays.

“Sure it gives us a lot more confidence to be around champions and to feed off each other,” said Bergoust during a January teleconference.

Skiing, speedskating, skeleton and snowboarding are areas where the Americans figure to show the world that they can compete in a Games where a track and field isn’t used.

Bahrke says that there is no secret behind the success of the team already being touted the best U.S. team every assembled.

“It’s a reflection of how hard we’ve all worked,” the Tahoe City resident said. “We’ve definitely earned the right to that title because we’ve worked so hard for it.”

Californians have added reasons to be excited about these Games: a handful of home-grown athletes are capable of leaving Salt Lake City with medals around their necks.

Moseley (Tiburon, Squaw Valley), Rahlves (Truckee), Bahrke (Tahoe City), Kwan (Torrance), Mendes (South Lake Tahoe), Tommy Czeschin (Mammoth Lakes) and Derek Parra (San Bernardino) are California’s best hopes. Most of these Californians have Olympic experience, so they’re not spending two weeks in Utah for Camcorder memories.

“This time around, I have a definite chance at medaling and I see it as pretty much what I’m here for,” Mendes said.

“I’m not here to hang out and see things, I’m here to win.”

These Americans don’t need miracles any more to win gold medals.

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