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U.S. Readies for Hockey Showdown

February 22, 2002

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ It’s going to be tough to top what happened the last time the Russians and Americans played in an Olympic hockey tournament semifinal.

Assuming, that is, the Russians show up. Angry Russian Olympic officials said Thursday they might pull their athletes out of Salt Lake City because of judgments against them in several sports.

Friday’s scheduled game between the United States and Russia comes 22 years to the day of the so-called ``Miracle on Ice,″ when the young American college players beat the Soviet Union’s mighty Red Army team. The United States went on to win the gold medal with a victory over Finland.

``Some of the guys were talking in the locker room about that,″ said Mike Modano, who had two assists after the Americans beat Germany 5-0 to advance. ``I played with Neal Broten, who was on that team, and he said there’s never been anything like it.″

Technically speaking, there has been something else like it, and it wasn’t too long ago. The Americans and Russians tied 2-2 last week at the E Center.

In the other semifinal, Canada plays Belarus, which pulled off the shocker of the tournament by eliminating Sweden 4-3 on a shot by Vladimir Kopat that bounced off the head of Swedish goalie Tommy Salo.

``For sure, it is a miracle for us,″ said Belarus goalie Andrei Mezin. ``But sometimes a gun without bullets can shoot, and that was us. We’ve made our place in history.″

The Russians weren’t alone in filing protests. Upset by a disqualification in short-track speedskating Wednesday, the South Korean Olympic team filed several protests, threatened to pull out of the closing ceremony, and didn’t dismiss the notion of pulling its remaining athletes out of the games.

In other events Friday, double medalist speedskater Derek Parra returns to the Utah Olympic Oval to race in the 10,000 meters. It’s not his specialty but neither was the 5,000, where he won a silver.

Bobsledder Todd Hays tries again to win a medal. After finishing fourth and missing the podium by .03 in the two-man, he drives his four-man sled in the first two runs at the Utah Olympic Park. The final two runs are Saturday.

The U.S. women have been shut out of medals in Alpine skiing but they get one more chance when Kristina Koznick and Sarah Schleper race in the giant slalom.

They won’t be the headliners. Janica Kostelic of Croatia is trying to become the first person to win four medals at the same Olympics. She has two golds and a silver so far.

``When you ask me if I want another one, for sure I want it,″ the 20-year-old said. ``But if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t matter. I still have two more Olympics in front of me, I think.″

Canada and Norway will play for the gold medal in men’s curling while Switzerland meets Sweden for the bronze.

Hays had a setback in the two-man race when his pusher, Pavle Jovanovic, missed the Olympics because of a positive drug test that was blamed on nutritional supplements. Hays also admitted to a case of nerves in his first race of the games.

``I’ll be more prepared,″ Hays said. ``Obviously, you have to go through the Olympic experience. I got four runs under my belt and I’m excited. I usually do a little better in the four-man anyway.″

Parra has become one of those made-for-TV Olympic heroes. The former inline skating champion blew kisses to his wife, Tiffany, after winning gold in the 1,500 and took a victory lap carrying a flag given to him by his grandfather.

To prepare for the Olympics, he lived in Utah while his wife was in Florida with her parents. Their first child was born just before the Olympic trials in December, and Parra missed most of his wife’s pregnancy.

``You give up so much, hoping for a moment like this, and it happens,″ Parra said after winning his gold medal and setting a world record in the 1,500. His voice cracked with emotion and he wiped his eyes.

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