Whether it's Turin or Torino, it'll be at top of Bemidji's list


TURIN, Italy-- --The opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics is tomorrow night. We might as well get the FAQs out of the way so we're not repeating ourselves over the next 17 days.

1. What are your first impressions?

The first sign visitors see at the airport advertises the "American Circus," which was somewhat disappointing. Did I really travel 4,000 miles to watch the offseason routine of Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa?

The next thing I saw heading into the city: A man pulled over on the side of the road urinating. Buon giorno, visitors!

Turin aesthetically reminds you of Cleveland - only with a color palette that solely consists of grays. "It's beautiful in the summer," an Italian journalist told me. "But in the winter, you wouldn't know it from Prague."

2. Wait, did you say Turin? How's that different from Torino?

You've got to remember that the English-speaking world pronounces the names of Italian cities differently. We say Milan, they say Milano. We say Rome, they say Roma. We say Rambo, they say ... wait, never mind.

Get ready to hear a mix of Turins and Torinos over the next couple of weeks. Media outlets are split on the name. USA Today and NBC are going with Torino. Outlets such as The Sun, the Associated Press and The New York Times are sticking with Turin. Personally, I'm thinking of going with T-Rin.

3. Turin ... that sounds familiar?

You might be thinking of the Shroud of Turin, which many believe was Jesus' burial cloth. The shroud is housed here and had essentially stood as the most important archaeological textile until the Terrible Towel.

4. What's with the dancing square and circle mascot?

The cartoon square is actually an ice cube and the circle is a snowball. I guess the popsicle, snow cone and ice-cream sandwich didn't make the cut.

5. What's all this I hear about Bode Miller?

He's the unofficial mascot.

6. So I looked over the American athletes. Is this Team USA or Team Minnesota?

It's true - the Gopher State has more athletes competing in the Winter Games than many countries. All told, Minnesota, which represents about 2 percent of the country's population, represents about 16 percent of the American roster. The state can lay claim to 34 athletes.

Even more amazing: Eight Olympians make their home in Bemidji, Minn., population: fewer than 13,000.

7. Wow! So how many does Maryland have competing?

Um, just one.

At 16, figure skater Kimmie Meissner of Bel Air is the youngest of the 211 athletes representing the United States and likely the only one without a driver's license.

8. So does she have a chance at gold?

Meissner is considered by most to be a long shot for a medal. But she enters the Games situated similarly to Sarah Hughes four years ago. Though Hughes was athletically more mature when she won gold in Salt Lake City, Meissner comes to Turin armed with the triple axel. I know it sounds like a professional wrestling move, but believe me, it's harder on ice than anything from the top rope.

Meissner is still only the second American female to nail it in competition, and her medal hopes might hinge on the difficult jump.

9. And what about Michelle Kwan?

Though she has name recognition, many experts still aren't sure how she'll fare with the new scoring system. Kwan is a graceful skater, but the new system - put in place after the judging controversy four years ago - rewards technical merit, which puts Kwan at a slight disadvantage.

The new system also doesn't reward age. In figure skating years, Kwan is 142 years old.

10. Will NBC find some heart-wrenching stories that will really suck the tears out of my ducts?

Don't fret. It wouldn't be the Olympics without a couple of overdone human interest stories. Get ready to hear about curling sisters Cassie and Jamie Johnson; hockey player Chanda Gunn, who has suffered from epileptic seizures since she was 9; moguls skier Toby Dawson, who was abandoned as a baby and adopted by a pair of Colorado ski instructors; and cross-country skier Kris Freeman, who competes with diabetes and injects himself several times a day with insulin.

11. What exactly do we have to look forward to first?

The Games kick off in style tomorrow night - and I don't necessarily mean good style. It'll be a fast-paced display of color and rhythm, packed with acrobatics and pyrotechnics. It's all about brotherhood and dialogue, they say - which sounds like a normal Friday night for me.

My favorite part: Rollerbladers will be racing around the stadium - no ice is used during the opening ceremony - with flames shooting from the backs of their helmets. Is it too late to volunteer?

12. So who is going to be living on a Wheaties box this time next month?

My money is on short-track speed skater Apolo Ohno, long-tracker Chad Hedrick, figure skater Sasha Cohen and snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis.

13. And so what are you looking forward to the most?

With hardly a doubt - curling. And the food. I'm shooting for gold myself.


Read Rick Maese's blog at baltimoresun.com/maeseblog

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