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Beer and Cognac: Miller, Weir Are Primed

February 13, 2006

TURIN, Italy (AP) _ The last time Bode Miller skied, a couple of beers the night before turned into a fifth _ his finish in the men’s Olympic downhill.

Just last month, figure skater Johnny Weir referred to his routine in the U.S. nationals as best suited for an audience mellowed by ``cognac and cigarettes,″ while praising another skater’s bit as an invigorating ``vodka shot.″

Interesting analogies. Both Miller and Weir need to raise their personal bars if they intend to jump into medal contention in Turin. NBC’s Tuesday prime-time coverage includes Miller’s return in the men’s combined after his disappointing start, and Weir’s debut in the short program of figure skating.

There’s a half-dozen medals up for grabs in all _ and the biggest action could come in a sport where play hasn’t started. Wayne Gretzky, executive director of Canada’s Olympic hockey team, is due to meet with reporters in the wake of allegations that his wife is embroiled in a New Jersey gambling ring.

Odds are 2-1 that very few questions for Gretzky will deal with the Olympics, where the Canadians are the defending gold medalists.

On NBC, the nightly 8 p.m.-11:30 p.m. EST program features the men’s figure skating, the men’s combined and the 500 meter women’s speedskating. U.S. opening ceremony flagholder Chris Witty, a five-time Olympian, hopes to earn the second gold medal of her career.

Two-time Salt Lake City bronze medalist Jennifer Rodriguez will also vie for one of the top three spots.

An hour-long afternoon session on NBC, beginning at 4 p.m., will highlight the finals in the women’s single luge, where American Courtney Zablocki sits in fourth place _ just four-one-thousandths of a second away from a medal. The top three spots heading into Tuesday’s two runs belonged to the dominant German team.

The U.S. has never won a woman’s single luge medal.

And the network’s late-night coverage, from 12:05 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Wednesday, features the men’s team sprint final in cross-country skiing and a trip to the medals plaza.

There may not be two more disparate athletes in all of Turin than Miller and Weir.

Miller likes a cold brew, shoots from the hip, lives in an RV. Weir prefers a good shopping spree, was unhappy about accommodations in the athletes’ village, and plans to compete in a swan outfit.

He’s described previous skating costumes as ``an icicle on coke″ _ not the official Olympic sponsor, either _ and ``a Care Bear on acid.″

The three-time reigning U.S. figure skating champion has already said the gold medal is Russian Evgeni Plushenko’s to lose. Plushenko, the Salt Lake City silver medalist, is the favorite in the two-night event, which concludes with the Thursday free skate.

Weir, 21, has jettisoned the ``cognac and cigarettes″ routine, promising something fresh for the games. U.S. teammates Evan Lysacek and Matt Savoie will join Weir in chasing the Russian in Turin.

For Miller, the combined offers him another chance at winning a medal after his disappointing downhill finish this past weekend. Miller, who won two silvers in 2002, was one of the most-hyped athletes before the game and generated endless stories with his outrageous comments.

He was hardly rattled by missing out on a medal at his first Turin event. Instead, Miller said, he would approach the combined with the attitude of skiing ``100 percent with risk and 100 percent with execution.″

Although Gretzky will get most of the hockey attention, the U.S. women’s hockey team is back in action against Norway in its final preliminary round game. The Americans, in their first two games, outscored their opponents 11-0, but face their toughest opponents yet in Finland.

In Sunday’s win over Germany, 18-year-old Sarah Parson scored a pair of dazzling goals for the Americans. The Finns have won their only game so far in Turin.

The game airs live at 2:30 p.m. on USA, while three other women’s hockey contests air live on MSNBC between 7 a.m.-2 p.m.

There’s also live coverage of the U.S. women curlers against Canada; the U.S. men curlers against New Zealand; and the men’s biathlon 10km sprint, all on USA before 11 a.m. Tuesday.

The last event features a true Olympic legend: Ole Einar Bjoerndalen of Norway.

The 32-year-old biathlete has already won a silver in Turin in the 20km biathlon, and swept all four biathlon golds in Salt Lake City, bringing his career Olympic medal count to six. With four races left, Bjoerndalen could break countryman Bjorn Dahlie’s Winter Games record of eight medals.

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