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Tuning into the Winter Olympics for thrills, spills


You don't ski or snowboard, and you wouldn't watch the luge if they tied Saddam Hussein to one and sent him downhill with his hair on fire.

Figure skating is too frou-frou for you, with all the feathers and sequins and mascara -- and you're not crazy about women's figure skating, either. (BA-BOOM! Thanks, I'm here all week, try the veal.)

Curling reminds you of something hotel chambermaids came up with while on peyote, and hockey puts you to sleep quicker than the phrase: "Ladies and gentlemen, tonight's featured speaker, Al Gore ... "

So you've made up your mind.

No way will you be watching the Winter Olympics, which begins tomorrow in Turin, Italy, and airs for a record 418 hours on NBC and cable stations over the next 17 days, which will feel like 17 years for you.

Fine. Suit yourself, Mr. or Ms. When-Does-American-Idol-Come-On?

But for the rest of us, there are plenty of good reasons to tune into the Turin Olympics, among them:

To discover why NBC pretentiously insists on calling it Torino, instead of Turin.

Yo, NBC, let's look at a few facts, OK?

Your audience is overwhelmingly English-speaking. Turin is the anglicized version of Torino. We've called it Turin forever on this side the Atlantic.

To us, Torino was an ugly Ford "muscle" car from the '70s. (OK, it was technically a Gran Torino. But you get the point.)

So stop with the Torino stuff, NBC. You're not impressing anyone.

To see the usual emotional fireworks from the U.S. team.

Yep, if you've followed this at all, you know our Winter Olympians are either Team Controversy, if you're feeling charitable, or Team Head-Case, if you're not.

Consider: Downhill skier Bode Miller went on 60 Minutes and talked about skiing while "wasted."

The skeleton coach was accused of sexually harassing female team members, then fired for insubordination.

(Yes, skeleton's a sport. Imagine taking someone who calls a suicide hotline to the top of a steep, icy mountain, giving them a sleek, metal sled that reaches speeds of 80 mph, and saying: "Good luck on the way down.")

Speaking of skeleton, the top male team member may not compete, since he tested positive for a banned substance he says he took for -- get this -- baldness.

And the U.S. women lugers posed nude -- OK, semicovered by their sleds -- on a Web site to promote a drinking game.

OK, none of that is in the same league as Tonya Harding's contract knee-capping of Nancy Kerrigan. But the team shrink could be putting in some overtime these next two weeks.

To watch Bel Air figure skater Kimmie Meissner.

She's 16. She's a junior at Fallston High School. She finished second at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in St. Louis last month. She's the first U.S. female since Tonya Harding to nail a triple axel. And now she's skating on the biggest stage of all.

When I was 16, I was watching Mr. Ed.

And wondering how they got him to talk.

To watch athletes hurtle down mountains at incredible speeds -- and cheat death.

Cheating death is the key here.

If a downhill skier runs off the course and smashes into a boulder at 60 mph, I want it to be like a Wile E. Coyote accident, where the skier flattens out like a pancake, sees stars and a big CRASH! appear over his head, then quickly returns to normal.

Here are some more numbers: A luge can reach speeds of better than 85.

A bobsled can reach speeds of close to 90.

By comparison, my fingers can reach a top speed of 140 mph clicking the mute button on the remote when Katie Couric announces the opening ceremonies.

To watch all the weepy profiles on the athletes.

OK, I confess: I'm a sucker for this stuff.

The Alpine skier involved in a car crash as a youth that broke every bone in his body, yet here he is, going for the gold in Turin?

The speed-skater coming back from a rare form of Legionnaire's Disease who could barely walk, never mind lace up the skates, two years ago?

Oh, yeah. That's all me.

You'd have to pry the remote from my cold, dead fingers to get me to stop watching.

Sure, sure, these profiles are so maudlin, they make Tuesdays With Morrie look like Seinfeld by comparison.

But who cares? It's so ... inspiring.

And I've got plenty of Kleenex.

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