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Olympic Sports Competition Set to Begin Saturday - 2002-02-09

Sports competition is set to begin Saturday at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

More than 2,500 athletes from 77 nations are participating in these games. The sporting program is the largest for a Winter Olympics. There will be 78 events in seven sports, with 15 disciplines.

New sports include the two-man bobsled for women, and skeleton for both women and men. In skeleton, an athlete lies head first in a prone position on a small heavy sled and slides down the icy bobsled and luge run.

The United States has entered 211 athletes. At the last two Winter Olympics, the U.S. team won 13 medals. In 1998 at Nagano that was fifth best. U.S. Olympic Committee President Sandy Baldwin has boldly predicted that U.S. athletes could win 20 medals here. "This is an opportunity to put America's best foot forward, and that's exactly what we're ready to do," he said. "We are psyched, and go USA!"

The USOC's Chief Executive Officer, Lloyd Ward, said he expects a great Olympics for all. "Certainly this is a great time for the world's community and a special time for Americans," he said. "But no question that this is a time for our athletes. They've prepared themselves and they are ready to compete and to win medals."

Medals are scheduled to be awarded in four events on the opening day Saturday, two in cross country skiing, men's 5,000 meter speed skating, and the women's moguls event in freestyle skiing.

Pairs figure skaters will perform their short program, preliminary men's ice hockey games will be played and the nordic combined athletes will do the ski jumping portion of their competition.