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Athletes Soared in 2001 Despite US Terror Tragedy - 2002-01-02


Several sports and athletes saw winning streaks extended amid stiff competition and grueling schedules in 2001. VOA's Jim Stevenson looks back at some of the highlights of the past year, which was deeply affected by the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11.

People around the world were affected by September 11, a day when tragic events suddenly changed opinions and actions, perhaps forever. The United States is the host for the upcoming Winter Olympics in February, a time when athletes of the world battle in the spirit of civilized competition.

Security for the Olympics has been a priority since the 1972 attack on the Israeli Olympic team in Munich. The pipe bomb explosion that killed one person in Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Atlanta games further underscored the need for tight security. But the magnitude of the September 11 attacks brought the full resources of the U.S. government into action for the Salt Lake City Winter Games. Salt Lake City Olympics chairman Mitt Romney says it is vital that the Olympics be held because of what the games represent.

"I think that it is absolutely essential at a time like this to show the world and to show our nation that these symbols of peace, that this target of peace, which is the Olympic games, can proceed," he said. " This is a gathering of the world community. America can host the world on its continent. And we can do so particularly if we know exactly the time and the place it has to be protected. And I have been assured that everything that is possible will be provided by the federal government and the state government here. I think in those circumstances we can be sure that the games are going to be protected and they must go on."

Mr. Romney says while security will be very tight, the increased measures taken after September 11 will not dramatically add to the plan already in place.

"The specific requests are requests that are being organized by the secret service, the FBI and the Utah public safety command," said Mr. Romney. " They will call for tightening in air security measures. They will also call for additional personnel. The federal government has a substantial number of resources that are protecting the games. And that number will increase, not by a huge number, but by a significant amount."

The extraordinary security measures will protect thousands of spectators and athletes during the games, which will be highlighted by skiing, ice skating, bobsled, luge, and ice hockey. Professional athletes from the National Hockey League will be representing their nations in the later stages of the tournament.

One player who will watch the Olympic hockey tournament from the sidelines is veteran defenseman Ray Bourque, who retired in 2001 after 20 NHL seasons in search of a Stanley Cup title. Bourque left the game on top as part of the champion Colorado Avalanche, and says the final game against the New Jersey Devils was very emotional.

"It is so sweet. You really can not let yourself think about it until the final buzzer goes," he said. "Man, it was tough; right off the bat it was emotional, [through] the National Anthem. It was tough to keep it together, but man, how sweet it is. It was not easy. And it is that much more sweeter when you have to do it the tough way."

It was also a sweet 2001 for star Colorado Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy. Besides winning the Stanley Cup, on December 26 he became the first NHL goalie to win 500 games.

Many athletes endured a tough year in track and field, where the difference between victory and world records is measured in the slightest of times and distances. American pole vaulter Stacy Dragila was able to set new women's world records eight times in 2001. She soared to new heights at four outdoor and four indoor meets, finally pushing the bar to 4.81 meters.

American runner Maurice Greene kept his title as the world's fastest man by clocking the third fastest time in the men's 100-meter race in 9.82 seconds at the World Athletics Championships in Edmonton, Canada. But perhaps the most remarkable track and field event of the year also took place in Edmonton. Vick Holchak called the race.

"They are lining up now for the final in the women's 100-meters," he announced. " [American] Marion Jones will be in lane three, right next to Zhanna Pintusevich of Ukraine. It is a good start. Pintusevich going well. It is Pintusevich and Marion Jones. Pintusevich in first. Marion Jones trying to come back. Pintusevich and Jones; Pintusevich is going to win this. Pintusevich across [the finish line], she has won the world championship. This is a major, major upset. Zhanna Pintusevich of Ukraine. The time unofficially, 10.82 seconds. It looked like at about 40 or 50 meters that Marion was in good shape. But she could not do it. Pintusevich with an excellent start, Marion Jones had a good start. Pintusevich is the world champion."

Marion Jones had not lost a 100-meter race since 1997. Pintusevich says she realized a long-time goal by beating Jones for the world title.

"Everything I put in sport, it just was a dream come true," she said. "I was thinking about this since 1997 and it finally just happened."

Fast times were also recorded on the horse track, where Point Given, a huge three-year-old chestnut colt, was the favorite to contend for the famed and elusive U.S. triple crown title. But Point Given finished a disappointing fifth in the Kentucky Derby before pulling out wins in the other two triple crown races, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.

"We knew this horse was this kind of horse. It was not his day [on Kentucky] Derby day. But we are not going to look back," said trainer Ray Baffert. "We just enjoy him. We enjoyed the Preakness and the Belmont today. He showed what he is really made of. And I just hope he stays together. We are going to have a lot of fun with him."

After two other lucrative victories, Point Given was retired because of a leg injury.

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