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Paramedic Can’t Race With WTC Picture

February 18, 2002

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PARK CITY, Utah (AP) _ New York City paramedic Michael Voudouris will be speeding down the skeleton chute at the Olympics. The Twin Towers won’t make the trip with him.

Voudouris, who has dual citizenship and competes for Greece, said Monday the International Bobsled Federation rejected his request to race with a picture of the towers and other memorials on the bottom of his sled.

``They said that’s not allowed. That’s a political statement,″ he explained.

Voudouris, who ranked 41st on the World Cup tour last season, approached federation officials ``as a courtesy″ after arriving at the Olympics and mentioned the World Trade Center picture.

``They quoted IOC rule No. 61,″ Voudouris said. ``I don’t know what the small print says, but it has to do with the placement of personal decals.″

So he stashed his sled in his room and borrowed a modern, more expensive model from U.S. racer Trevor Christie, who didn’t qualify for the Olympic team.

``It was like going from a Volkswagen to a Maserati,″ Voudouris said.

Meanwhile, Voudouris appealed the decision to the International Olympic Committee and expects to know more before Wednesday’s races. The IOC bowed to public pressure and allowed American athletes to carry a flag from the World Trade Center at the opening ceremony on Feb. 8.

``They have already honored the people from ground zero in the opening ceremonies with the flag,″ said International Bobsled Federation spokeswoman Ingeborg Kollbach.

The bobsled federation doesn’t ``want to give any part of a controversy,″ Kollbach said. The sport, where athletes race facefirst down a bobsled track, is returning to the Olympics for the first time since 1948.

The 41-year-old Voudouris was disappointed.

``It’s on the underside,″ he said. ``No one’s going to see it unless it flips over.″

An IOC spokesman didn’t return telephone messages seeking comment.

Voudouris’ sled also includes the names of nine victims who worked for ambulance services, as well as the Star of Life symbol that adorns ambulances just about anywhere.

He also has 30 small Greek flags to honor 30 Greek citizens who died, as well as the name of his high school, Archbishop Molloy, which lost 32 graduates.

That’s not all. Voudouris usually wears a white Star of Life on his blue racing helmet, but he taped over it for the Olympics it as a precaution against more rules violations.

Stories about the heroics of firefighters and police officers at ground zero have been well publicized. Voudouris races with his symbols to honor his fellow paramedics.

``We’ve always been the third uniform that always gets passed over,″ he said.

Voudouris began racing in 1996. He also works as a sports photographer and was shooting a photo of former racer Julie Walker on the old track at Lake Placid. To get the picture, he had to take the run first.

Voudouris was hooked. He often makes the six-hour drive from New York to Lake Placid to train. He competes below the World Cup level but landed his Olympic slot by placing eighth in a Challenge Cup race by .01.

And that was after missing two months of practice, recovering from the bronchitis he had following Sept. 11. He also sustained a scratched cornea in the rescue operation.

``I couldn’t close my eye when I went to sleep,″ he said.

Voudouris was home in Queens when he heard news of the World Trade Center towers being attacked. He rushed to ground zero and spent two days treating injured and weary firefighters.

``The real heroes are the ones who went in,″ he said. ``The rest of us were just there to help out.″

Voudouris ranked 24th out of 26 competitors after two training runs Monday. With his skin suit scuffed and ragged from bumping the wall, he’s no threat to the medal contenders.

``My best friends in the Olympic Village are the physiotherapists,″ he said. ``They see the black and blue on my body and work around it.″

He loves the sport, though, and competes because skeleton is an escape.

``For two runs, I can be concerned only for myself,″ he said. ``I don’t have to worry about what’s going on around me, if we’re going to be stabbed or shot, or if anyone’s going to die.″

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