Athlete injured at exhibition


American skeleton racer Kevin Ellis broke a vertebra in his back yesterday while competing against members of the U.S. luge team in a made-for-TV, non-Olympic sledding event.

Ellis was being transported to a hospital in Turin for further evaluation and treatment, said U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel. There was no immediate word on Ellis' condition, but the first-time Olympian did have movement in his extremities, Seibel said.

"There is no paralysis," Seibel said.

Attempts to reach other members of the U.S. skeleton team by phone and e-mail were not immediately successful.

Ellis, a 32-year-old accountant from Dallas, was 17th in the men's skeleton competition at the Turin Games. He was ranked a career-best fourth in this season's World Cup standings.

Skeleton season ended with the Olympic races, and Ellis has indicated that he's strongly considering staying on the U.S. national team for at least the next World Cup season and possibly make a bid for a spot on the 2010 Olympic roster. It remains to be seen how his injury will affect his plans.

He was one of five athletes in a friendly sliding competition at the Snow Show, an organized sledding hill in Sestriere yesterday, joined by skeleton Olympians Eric Bernotas and Katie Uhlaender and luge Olympians Christian Niccum and Erin Hamlin. The hill is part of the Cultural Olympiad, near the Olympic Village.

The competition was filmed and scheduled to be aired later in the Olympics by NBC.

Ellis was a two-time All-American hurdler at Stephen F. Austin, and competed in the 110-meter Olympics hurdle trials before the 1996 Atlanta Games. He was hired as the skeleton team's manager in 1999, and became a full-time member of the World Cup circuit in the 2002-03 season.

Speed skating -- Charles Ryan Leveille will get a chance to skate on his own at the Olympics. Too bad his mother won't be around the see it. Leveille was officially picked to take fellow American Shani Davis' spot in the 10,000 meters, the final men's speed skating race of the Turin Games. Davis dropped out of his weakest event, satisfied with winning a gold and a silver medal. Leveille, a former inline skater who grew up in suburban Atlanta, was part of the pursuit team that lost to Italy in the quarterfinals. Today's race will be his lone individual event of the Olympics. "I was a little scared at first," he said after a workout at the Oval Lingotto. "But now that I've had time to think about it, I'm excited and ready to go."

Abandoned car -- Police investigating an abandoned car near the Olympics' main press center said it turned out to be a false alarm. Suspicions were raised when witnesses saw two people leaving the small car, which was left with its engine on near a traffic underpass, police said. About 150 residents were evacuated from two apartment buildings and nearby cars were towed. A loud bang was heard several minutes later, which police said was a controlled explosion set off to gain access. Nothing suspicious was found and the car was towed away, said Cesario Totaro, a captain with the Carabinieri paramilitary police. The driver's side door was badly damaged and the window was blown out. The car, a red Honda Civic, had Spanish license plates. Totaro said police were in contact with Spanish authorities and were looking for the owner of the car, which did not immediately register as stolen. Helicopters hovered overhead on the Via Nizza, a street adjacent to the press center, part of a sprawling former Fiat plant that's also near the Olympic speed skating venue. The street was opened soon after the car was taken away on a flatbed truck.

Doping -- The samples from 10 members of Austria's Nordic ski team were still being analyzed, five days after the athletes were targeted for surprise, out-of-competition tests. Meanwhile, Austria's ski federation president met with Italian prosecutors to discuss the scandal centering on the team's links with banned coach Walter Mayer. The International Olympic Committee insisted there was nothing unusual in the delay in getting the test results, saying more time was needed to check for the blood-boosting drug EPO. Six Austrian cross-country skiers and four biathletes were roused from their private living quarters late Saturday for unannounced tests. At the same time, Italian police raided the lodgings and seized blood transfusion equipment and other materials linked to Mayer.

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