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Culture

Time Nears to Turn the Tables on Norway

162 German athletes will be going to the Turin Winter Olympics. The gold diggers won't come from the highlight events like Alpine skiing and figure skating, but Germany hopes to finish on top ahead of rivals Norway.

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Speed skating is a sure-bet for a German Olympic gold

While the Turin Olympic organizers scramble to complete preparations for the two-week sporting spectacle that begins on February 10, more bad news trickled in on Saturday. Poor weather in the form of too much snow forced the Olympic flame relay to take a day off along the Swiss border.

But the snowy conditions are good news for the athletes who will be competing on the white powder on the slopes, trails and ski jump hills. Mother Nature is doing everything she can to make sure that the athletes can perform under optimal conditions.

The German Olympic team, 162 strong, will arrive in Italy with high hopes. In Salt Lake City in 2002, the squad took home the most medals -- 36 in all -- but came in second in the all-important gold medal count, one behind winter sport powerhouse Norway.

Germany won't overtake the Norwegians with first-place efforts from the athletes in the high-profile events like Alpine skiing or figure skating. Not since the high-speed efforts of Katja Seizinger (two-time gold medal winner in Nagano in 1998) and Katharina Witt's artistic jumps on the ice has Germany produced serious medal contenders in skiing and figure skating.

Gold hopes on the oval

One person who should make sure that Germany will surpass their 12 gold medals at Salt Lake is speed skater Anni Friesinger. In 2002, she raced to the 1,500-meter gold, and is the reigning champion in the 5,000-meter event and shines also in 3,000 and 1,000 meters.

Claudia Pechstein und Anni Friesinger

Anni Friesinger, right, and Claudia Pechstein

Her compatriot and rival Claudia Pechstein has other thoughts in mind. She looks to set a record in longevity. She has won the 5,000-meter gold in consecutive three Olympics, equaling the American Bonnie Blair's record. One more trip to the top of the podium is her goal.

In the 500-meter sprint event, Jenny Wolf has come from nowhere this season to be a favorite.

Circuits better than slopes

Where the Germans hope to make up lost ground against the Scandinavians is in the Nordic events, long a predictable source of medals for Norway. Tobias Angerer has risen to the top of cross-country skiing this winter. The German leads Norwegian Tor Arne Hetland in the World Cup overall standings, having scored five victories in his favored events of long distance and pursuit.

Axel Teichmann and Rene Sommerfeldt are equally capable of winning and the relay team promises to be amongst the top three in Turin.

Even more certain of returning to Germany with glittery medals, hopefully of the yellow kind, are the women biathletes. Norway's Live Grete Poiree is currently the cream of the crop but has yet to win Olympic gold. She faces a tough challenge from 2002 Olympic gold medalist Kati Wilhelm of Germany in the sprint and silver medalist in the pursuit.

Medaillen

Kati Wilhelm and Uschi Disl took gold and silver in the 7.5-km biathlon in Salt Lake City

The relay team looks to dominate that event with the steady hands German female athlete of the year 2005 Uschi Disl, Martina Glagow, Katja Beer and Andrea Henkel leading the charge. Disl has been a mainstay in German biathlon, winning more than half of the country's Olympic medals in the women's division.

The men's biathletes Sven Fischer and Rico Gross must overcome Norwegian Ole-Einar Björndalen to attain a coveted gold medal. Björndalen captured all four events at Salt Lake City.

Icy tubes have been good to Germany

The luge has been a regular provider of medals for Germany in the past and that shouldn't change in Turin. 39-year old Georg Hackl has been competing in the Olympics since 1988 (silver in Calgary), bringing home three golds in the process.

Deutsche Rodler siegen bei WM im Team-Wettbewerb

Georg Hackl hopes to slide to gold again

In what will probably be his last Olympic appearance -- although that has been the case for about a decade -- Hackl hopes to win his sixth medal. Should Hackl, who has battled the flu this winter, miss his goal, David Möller has the potential to win.

The women lugers have been head and shoulders above their competition the past decade. Silke Kraushaar, Sylke Otto and Tatjana Hüfner could easily divide the spoils amongst themselves.

In the two-man luge, the duo of Patrick Leitner and Alexander Resch together with their colleagues Andre Florschutz and Torsten Wustlich will be fighting for a spot on the podium.

No matter who wins or loses, if the conditions remain as they are currently in northern Italy, no winter athlete can blame it on the weather if they come home empty-handed.

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