- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2006

TURIN, Italy — The flame went out on the 20th Winter Olympics last night in a closing ceremony described as “Opera di Chiusura,” or “Opera of the Carnival.” As part of the festivities, the athletes were given red clown noses to wear as they entered Stadio Olimpico.

(Feel free to insert your own Bode Miller joke here).

From the Piazza Castello to Pinerolo, Sestriere to Sauze d’Oulx (no, that’s not how you say it), the Olympics were a big carnival, all right, in a spread out, damp, urban, snow-capped, chaotic kind of way. Like figure skater Sasha Cohen, the Games stumbled at the start but got back up. Like Bode, the medal-less Alpine skier, the official slogan “Passion Lives Here” applied mainly after dark.

This is a party town, and a party it was. La Dolce Vita exceeds closing time. Bars and restaurants were jammed. The sports venues were not. Johnny Weir found plenty of shopping venues. The jackhammers eventually ceased, the construction crews cleared out and Italy’s fourth-largest city put on a decent show amid the Fiat-clogged streets.

The Polizia di Stato, the Carabinieri, the Guardia di Finanzia, the Alpini (guys with feathers in their caps) and the Vigili kept the peace and maintained security. The Vigili had the toughest job — traffic. They tried. Some of the fiercest competition took place in the streets.

It rained in the city and snowed in the mountains, which is better than the other way around. Tourists and media-types overdosed on chocolate and pasta and struggled with the language, and the natives watched with a detached amusement. The buses, navigationally challenged early on, eventually found their way.

Which is more than we can say for our party boy. Miller time was time wasted.

Never has so much paper, ink and film been sacrificed for so little. There is no “I” in Bode, but there is a big “O.” Five, in fact: one for each event he failed to finish or otherwise flubbed.

But enough with the negatives. For now. The Games are about the Olympic spirit. And nothing says spirit like medals. The United States won nine gold medals and 25 in all, only four behind first-place Germany. That’s pretty good for playing on the road.

Led by Shaun White, the king of the dudes, American snowboarders dominated. Lindsey Jacobellis proved there is a limit to hotdogging, even with extreme sports types. But don’t worry about her. You get the feeling she will be OK.

Our speedskaters cleaned up, too. Apolo Anton Ohno was clutch on the short track. Long tracker Chad Hedrick won a medal of every color but was disappointed that most weren’t gold. Shani Davis won the long track 1,000 meters, becoming the first black male to win gold at the Winter Olympics.

Shani and Chad. The No.1 fun couple of the Games, just ahead of Weir and his glove, Camille. Thanks for the material, fellas.

Let’s not dwell on that. Instead, how about a big cheer for gold medal speedskater Joey Cheek and skier Lindsey Kildow? Cheek won $40,000 in prize money and gave it all to charity. Kildow showed rich, high-paid athletes in other sports how to play hurt.

Kildow’s teammate, Julia Mancuso, survived horrid conditions on the slopes to win the giant slalom. Cohen also demonstrated persistence and character after she fell twice. It must be hard to realize that four years of hard work will not end with a gold medal, but she toughed it out anyway and got the silver. Weir, on the other hand, caved in after missing his bus. Who would you take in a fight?

Not so tough, either, were the U.S. men’s and women’s hockey teams. Both made early exits. Speaking of which, hockey veteran Mike Modano bolted for the United States ahead of his teammates in a hissy fit. Aerial skier Jeret Peterson also took to the air earlier than scheduled. He was sent home after fighting with a friend. You would hate to be the guy’s enemy.

As for athletes from other lands, several Austrian cross-country skiers and biathletes got busted in a drug raid in the middle of the night. And one of their coaches, who wasn’t even supposed to be there, tried to re-enact “The Great Escape.” Instead, he ended up doing a remake of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

But the Austrian Alpine skiers, especially double-gold winners Benjamin Reich and Michaela Dorfmeister were brilliant. Italy embraced a new hero, speedskater Enrico Fabris, a three-time medal winner.

Yet according to the TV ratings, few in America cared. Sniping at the Olympics in the United States became as much a pastime as crabby journalists here complaining about the traffic, the transportation snafus, the venues being so far apart, the … Oh, never mind.

But in a small, rocky Canadian province, they cared. A lot. Schools and businesses closed early because of what was happening half a world away in the small town of Pinerolo, Italy. There, Newfoundland resident Brad Gushue was leading Canada’s men’s curlers to a gold medal.

Team Canada’s failure in men’s hockey was a blow to the nation’s fragile psyche, so the success of the curlers would have to do. It did, along with the Canadian women winning hockey gold and speedskater Cindy Klassen’s five medals in speedskating. Canada won a record 24 medals. Not bad, eh? And now the Games are coming to Vancouver in 2010.

Until then, arrivederci, baby.

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