ROAD TO TURIN: Torch Relay Hits Protest
TURIN, Italy (AP) _ The head ice maker at the Winter Olympics isn’t putting his money on the Canadian hockey team. Or any team for that matter.
Dan Craig said he has turned down a request to place a $1 Canadian coin in the ice _ something one of his workers did in 2002 at the Salt Lake City Olympics. The Canadians believe the ``Lucky Loonie″ embedded in the ice helped them win hockey gold in 2002.
``My job is to make the ice for everybody,″ Craig said. ``I can’t have the Czechs come up to me and say ‘What the heck?’ I can’t have the Swedes, Finns, you name it, come to me and say I did something to favor Canada.″
The Lucky Loonie from 2002 has become part of hockey lore in Canada. Wayne Gretzky held it up after the gold medal game as proof that the team had a lucky charm on the ice, and the coin later went on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
But the Canadians will have to find a rabbit’s foot or four-leaf clover in Turin. Craig insists there will be no loonies _ named for the loon on the tail side of the coin _ going into the ice.
``I had three Americans and three Canadians on the ice and they must have checked six times to make sure there was no loonie there,″ said Craig, who is the NHL’s chief ice consultant.
HEATED PROTESTS: The Olympic torch relay was surrounded Sunday by the shouts of protesters, prompting organizers to skip the valley stretch near the town of Susa and instead head straight to the next stop.
A police car was kicked by demonstrators, who tried in vain to put out the flame by throwing a protest banner on it, Stefano Coscia, media director for the torch relay, told The Associated Press by phone.
``The police advised us not to go on″ with the valley route, but instead head straight toward the stop scheduled for Sunday evening in the town of Bordonecchia, Coscia said.
The relay arrived at Bordonecchia in time for a ceremony that was attracting thousands of peaceful people, Coscia said, shouting over the din of music from the festivities.
For months, residents and environmentalists in Susa have been protesting plans to build a high-speed rail link between Turin and Lyon, France. The activists had said they planned to protest Sunday’s passage of the flame in the valley ahead of the Feb. 10-26 games.
Cesare Vaciago, CEO of the Olympic organizing committee, expressed ``thanks to those residents who applauded in Susa.″
``Others wasted the opportunity. And its a shame,″ Vaciago said.
``It’s always disappointing when a minority uses an issue in this way, but this a democratic country,″ said International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Giselle Davies. ``From an IOC perspective, we don’t feel a minority is spoiling things for the majority.
According to media reports Sunday, Coca-Cola and Samsung, two sponsors of the Turin Winter Games, decided that their vehicles would not accompany the Olympic flame through the Susa Valley.
OLDEST OLYMPIAN: American curler Scott Baird owns an Olympic record without ever having thrown a stone at the games.
At 54 years and 282 days old, Baird makes his Olympic debut next week as the oldest competitor in Winter games history.
Baird, an alternate on the U.S. team, found out about the distinction Sunday.
``Having just learned today, it’s pretty much an honor for me,″ Baird said. ``I think it’s one of the greatest lifetime sports you can play, and you can start at an early age. ... League players and players that have started competing at our curling club are well into their 70s and 80s.″
The previous oldest Winter Olympian, German men’s skeleton slider James Coates, placed seventh in 1948 at 53 years, 328 days old.
Baird said he’s still learning about the sport.
``I guess it takes quite a few years to make it into your game in curling,″ he said.
CHANGING FLAGS: Josef ``Pepi″ Strobl, a former Austrian Alpine skier, was granted authorization Sunday to compete for Slovenia at the Turin Olympics.
Strobl’s petition to ski for his adopted country at the games was accepted by the International Olympic Committee executive board.
Strobl met the conditions because he holds a Slovenian passport and lives across the Austrian border in Slovenia, the IOC said.
Strobl, who finished third in the overall World Cup standings in 1996-97 and 1999-2000, quit the Austrian team in 2004. He has won six World Cup races.
The IOC also approved German-born biathlete Barbara Ertl’s switch to Italian nationality. She is married to an Italian and has Italian citizenship.
Associated Press sports writers Stephen Wilson and Josh L. Dickey, AP writer Frances D’Emilio and AP stringer Debbie Simpson contributed to this report.