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|| News Item: Posted 2006-03-30

Torino Winter Olympic Memories
'It was a sad day for me when Michelle Kwan pulled out of the Games.

By Amy Sancetta, Associated Press

Photo by

AP staffers Kevork Djansezian and Amy Sancetta in Torino.
Is there a better cup of cappuccino than there was in Torino? I think not. Great coffee, better chocolate, wonderful wine and pasta, and, oh yeah, the Olympic Games! Sounds like a pretty darn good way to spend a month out of snowy Cleveland to me!

While other shooters traipsed from the mountains to the industrial south-side of Torino and back to the mountains again, the physical range of my Olympic experience consisted of my walk from the BIT housing, across the street to the Palavala, and sometimes to the Main Press Center.

The way they had entrances and exits set up, a quarter mile walk turned into a walk of nearly a mile, but I never complained. I never had to ride the busses---always the bain of existence for an Olympic shooter laden with gear and wrapped in 10 layers of fleece and down.

I covered figure skating and short track inside the intimate Palavala. It was so small with so few seats really for patrons, it would have been a great place to be a fan. Every seat was good and close.

Other shooters would come and go to their various events. But for me and my team of 5 others from the AP, along with teams from the other wires, we lived here. You practically wanted to stand at center ice with your arms outstretched and shout "This is my venue and these are my people!" But we didn't.

It was a sad day for me when Michelle Kwan pulled out of the Games. I had seen her skate many times, in other Olympics and Worlds and Nationals. I admit I'm a fan, and really wanted to get to see her skate one more time. When I left her newser after she pulled out, I ran into the AP's hired skating expert Marie in the hallway. I told her, 'I'm depressed about Michelle. If she's going home, I'm going home." Marie took my hand and looked empathetically into my face and said, plain as can be, "Shop first, there's so much good leather here." Back to reality.

The Games went on without Michelle. Athletes kept skating and medals were won. I took rather a nasty fall onto my back and my Mark II covering a flower ceremony for short track one night, which sent me to the Italian hospital for a full day--my first foreign hospital experience in 9 Olympics. Turns out I just badly bruised my back and even my kidney, and I had to miss a few days of coverage, which was a bummer. For anyone who knew I fell or saw the banana-peel-type fall, I am in physical therapy, trying to get myself together again. These many weeks later, my back still aches in the spot.

It's hell getting older!

I got my act together enough to finish out the Games, including covering the women's competition in figures and the final night of short track. I should have known that that last night of competition at the Palavala was going to be magical.

Photo by Amy Sancetta / Associated Press

Photo by Amy Sancetta / Associated Press

Apolo Anton Ohno of the United States crosses the finish line to win the gold medal ahead of Canada's Francois-Louis Tremblay (211) and Eric Bedard (208) and Korea's Ahn Hyun-Soo in the Men's 500 meter final in Short Track Speed Skating competition.
On my walk over, through the park with the fountain that the landscapers seemed to be just completing on this day, I passed a little girl dressed like a princess. I shot her photo with my happy snap and she waved her wand back and forth in my direction.

As I continued on, into the arena complex, I came around the fence leading to the media entrance and darn near ran into Apolo Ohno. He was in warm ups, listening to music on his iPod and generally just chilling out before his last chance for a medal in these Games. I wished him well and he said thanks and smiled back. He's so small. I'm glad I didn't plow him over and change the course of what would be a wonderful Olympic night.

Apolo was not favored to medal in the men's 500mm. It's not his race, and the Koreans and Japanese had dominated the event all year. But he made it to the quarters, then the semis, and then into the finals. And when the gun went off for the A final ("ready", "Go to the start") Apolo took the lead in the fast and furious race and never gave it up. When he crossed the finish line in first, mouth wide open in an 'oh my god' moment and arms outstretched, was such a rush.

A full-time athlete doing something even he must have had doubts about. He said it would take a perfect race for him to win the 500. SO what did he do? He went out and skated a perfect race.

His joy was so thorough and genuine. To be witness to that, and then to be able to run that moment through your camera --- it's why we work the long days and ride the buses, and eat Mars bars for dinner and fight for positions with the zillions of other shooters. It was marvelous. A perfectly thrilling Olympic way to end these Games.

(Amy Sancetta is a staff photographer with the Associated Press based in Ohio.)

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