- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2002

From combined dispatches
A Mormon official called media coverage of the church biased and sloppy in an open letter sent yesterday to reporters covering the 2002 Winter Games.
While most news reports from Salt Lake City have been fair, the letter said, others are "full of arrant nonsense and prejudice" and prove that Mormons are still as persecuted as they were when they fled to Utah in 1847.
Also yesterday, the church criticized a Denver Post column mocking Mormonism and the Olympics. The piece was pulled from the paper's Web site and an apologetic column was planned for today.
The letter was attributed to Alan Wakeley, director of public affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, but was originally written for a church-affiliated magazine.
Church spokesman Dale Bill said Meridian Magazine editor-in-chief Maureen Proctor gave Wakeley permission to rewrite her article "to address a few concerns he had about some media coverage in Australia and New Zealand."
The piece criticizes articles written by the Sydney Daily Telegraph and five other news outlets, including one written by the Associated Press. It accused the media of "drive-by reporting," saying reporters have focused on polygamy, which has been banned by the church for more than a century, or portrayed the church as "a vast, wealthy, clannish and secretive empire."
"Unfortunately, when some journalists talk about members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they create a caricature," the letter said.
The Salt Lake-based church has long been skittish about media attempts to dub the 2002 Winter Games the "Mormon games."
After repeated questions about polygamy and other dark spots in the church's past, Mormon officials mailed more than 3,000 press packets detailing the church's history.
And though Mormon officials say they're generally pleased with news reports, the official Web site posts a frequently updated list of corrections and clarifications of stories about the church.
Such mistakes are to be expected given the media's lack of interest in theological details, said Jan Shipps, a non-Mormon historian who has written several books about the faith. Newspapers are depending on their reporters in town to cover the games to give them quick stories about Mormons.
"They don't send the religion reporters, they send the sports reporters," Shipps said. "And they do the best they can. They don't know about the trinity, they know about a triple salchow."
An egregious example, church officials said, was a column by Woody Paige that appeared in Tuesday's edition of the Denver Post. Paige's story, titled, "Colorado real winner of Games," joked that Olympic visitors would be so annoyed by Utah's cultural quirks they would never return to the state.
"The whole piece can be characterized as just a really nasty piece, an offensive piece for Utahns," said church spokesman Mike Otterson.
The article drew so many angry e-mails that technicians at the paper's Web site set up a special spot for complaints about the column. Denver Post editor Glenn Guzzo yesterday said the column was "inappropriate" and never should have been published, and promised that Paige's column today would include an apology.
Ex-champ Wiberg out
Former World Cup overall skiing champion Pernilla Wiberg of Sweden withdrew from the women's combined because of a sore knee.
Wiberg, a strong all-arounder who has always done well in the combined, hurt her left knee during Tuesday's downhill, where she finished 14th.
Wiberg, who has a long history of knee problems, said she preferred to stay off her leg and save herself for Sunday's super giant slalom. The combined is today.
"She's not competing in the combined," said Bjorn Folin, press director for the Swedish Olympic Committee. "Her left knee got all swollen during the downhill. There were a lot of long, high jumps and her knee took a lot of shocks.
"She could probably have competed in the combined and been OK, but she said she felt her best medal chances were in the super-G and did not want to ruin that chance."
Wiberg hinted that this will be her last season.
"This will be my fourth Olympics and it would be good to finish with a medal," the 31-year-old said.
Wiberg already has a formidable medal collection a gold in the giant slalom at the 1992 Olympics, a gold in the combined in 1994 and a silver in the downhill in 1998.
Luge change urged
The president of the International Luge Federation said that it was time to change the qualifying rules for international races.
The move by Josef Fendt came a day after a crash in women's luge injured a track worker at Utah Olympic Park.
"We must prevent excesses like these," Fendt said. "We still have to figure out how to address this, but it's clear we must do something."
In the accident, Venezuela's Iginia Boccalandro, who weighs more than 200 pounds, lost control of her sled near the end of the first heat and was knocked unconscious in a violent crash.
Boccalandro fell off her 50-pound sled after it had slammed the sides of the track at least three times and could have suffered serious injury if track workers had not quickly intervened.
Just before the sled reached Boccalandro, volunteer sweeper Drake Self tried to grab it, but the sled flipped over and sliced off the tip of his right index finger just below the fingernail.
Self, 49, from Logan, Utah, was treated and released from LDS Hospital. Another volunteer suffered a bruised foot trying to stop the sled, which did not hit Boccalandro.
Boccalandro landed face-down on the track and slid headfirst for over 30 yards, her racing suit in tatters as she lay motionless. She sat up after a few moments and slowly climbed off the track and was not seriously injured.
Boccalandro, who finished 28th at Nagano, was disqualified for not completing the run. She had crashed on four of her six training runs before the competition, which prompted questions about whether she was athletically fit to compete.
Slight detour
Atlanta Thrashers goalie Milan Hnilicka was going to spend his Olympic break in the Caribbean. Now, he's heading to Utah.
Hnilicka got a call asking him to join the Czech Republic team after Roman Turek of the Calgary Flames dropped out because of injury.
Even though it's a lot warmer in the Cayman Islands Hnilicka's original destination during the break he didn't balk at a chance to play for his country. He planned to board a flight this morning to Salt Lake City, one day before the Czechs play their first game against Germany.
"It's a slight change in plans," Hnilicka said in a telephone interview from Atlanta. "But that's OK."
Hnilicka was a backup at the 1998 Olympics, but he didn't play as Dominik Hasek led the Czechs to a surprising gold medal.
Surprise, surprise
A warm hug from her dad meant more to Becky Wilczak than an Olympic medal ever could.
Wilczak finished fifth in the luge, matching the highest ever by an American. She wasn't going back to Park Forest, Ill., with a medal dangling from her neck.
But Wilczak got something much better when she crossed the finish line and her ailing father, Tom, wrapped his arms around his only daughter.
"I was surprised to see him," she said. "I didn't know he was going to be there, and it was great to be able to give him a hug."
Wilczak, 55, has battled a rare liver disease for the last 14 years, and needs a transplant. He has been too sick recently to see his daughter's races and was only able to come to the Olympics after a plane was made available if he needed to get back to Chicago for surgery.
As Becky, 21, prepared for her final run, her dad steadied himself in front of a TV near the finish line.
She finished in 43.420 seconds, putting her in fifth place behind Austria's Angelika Neuner, and a German team that swept the medals.
With fans chanting, "U-S-A" and waving American flags, she pulled into the finish area, shrugged her shoulders and then received the hug from her dad.


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