- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

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 yesterday 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 tomorrow'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 September 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 yesterday. 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."

TV ratings get boost
A slew of elements some under NBC's control, others not are helping the network avoid the TV audience shortfalls that plagued the last two Olympics and led to the airing of extra commercials.
After consecutive days of double-digit percentage declines, the ratings rose 22 percent from Saturday night's Salt Lake City-low of 14.0 to a 17.1 for Sunday's coverage from 7:30-11:15 p.m. EST.
That put NBC's prime-time average heading into the final week at 18.3 (each rating point represents about 1.05 million U.S. TV homes), a number boosted by, among other things, a scandal in pairs figure skating and naturally higher interest in an Olympics on U.S. soil.
Ratings are "right about where we thought they'd be," NBC president Randy Falco said. "I love it when a plan comes together."
The ratings are 24 percent higher than the 10-day average for the 2000 Sydney Summer Games on NBC, and 10 percent above the 1998 Nagano Winter Games on CBS. Those are the two lowest-rated Olympics since 1968, and the networks showed additional commercials to make up the difference to advertisers who were told they would reach more viewers.
A big spike for Salt Lake City came from the highest-rated opening ceremony ever (25.2). If that is taken out, and only the days with Olympic action are compared, the ratings for the current Winter Games are about 4.5 percent higher than Nagano's. Still, for NBC and its sponsors, the opening ceremony certainly counts.
Falco said part of the bump has come from airing the prime-time show on a 2-hour tape delay on the West Coast, where the ratings have been 8 percent higher than for the rest of the country.
Among other factors are the U.S. team's record medal haul, shorter prime-time shows, fewer and shorter features, little competition from other networks, and constant promotion on other NBC programming, including "Today" and local and national news.
And NBC still has women's figure skating, usually the Winter Games' biggest attraction, on tap for today and Thursday.

Triple threat QB
Steve Young is even a triple threat at the Olympics.
Young, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and a descendent of Mormon pioneer Brigham Young, was the first volunteer signed up to help with tasks big and small at the Winter Games.
So far, he's carried Britain's team banner in the parade of athletes at the opening ceremony and helped warm up the crowd for pop group Train at the Olympic Medals Plaza.
Yesterday morning, the work was more mundane. The former Pro Bowl quarterback was playing paperboy, toting a stack of newspapers through the lobby of the International Olympic Committee's hotel.


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