Inaugural Winter Goodwill Games Hit Lake Placid

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Lake Placid, N.Y. Feb. 12 (AP by John Kekis)--Dorothy Hamill said she couldn't pass up the chance.

``I still have the athlete's heart,'' she said.

And so, nearly a quarter century after she became the darling of the Winter Olympics, the 43-year-old Hamill is coming out of competitive retirement to skate in the inaugural Winter Goodwill Games.

``It's quite a challenge,'' said Hamill, who won the figure skating gold medal at Innsbruck in 1976. ``It's the first Winter Goodwill Games. I just thought it would be a lot of fun, just the opportunity to be out here and be part of the first one.''

She is not alone. Stars such as Oksana Baiul and Brian Boitano will join her on the ice. In all, more than 200 of the world's best athletes are coming to test their skills in 11 sports _ by invitation only.

Opening ceremonies will be Wednesday night, featuring Bruce Hornsby, Edwin McCain, and the Crane School of Music Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

Four days of competition begin Thursday in luge, skeleton, bobsled, figure skating, short track speedskating, snowboarding, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, nordic combined, ski jumping and freestyle skiing.

Defending World Cup moguls champ Ann Battelle likes her chances on the steep slopes of Whiteface Mountain.

``I think I have as good a chance as anybody,'' said Battelle, who grew up nearby in Vermont and expects to have her own cheering section on hand. ``I've skied this course a bunch of times and I like it. But it's definitely going to be tough because the field of skiers right now is unbelievable.''

Especially in the alpine events. Due to a break in the World Cup schedule, the Austrians will field a formidable team. Fritz Strobl, Werner Franz, and Hannes Trinkl all are currently ranked in the top 10 on the World Cup circuit.

The 31-year-old Trinkl won bronze two years ago at the Nagano Olympics, while Strobl, 27, has two career wins at Kitzbuhel, Austria, considered the toughest course in downhill racing.

Out at Mount Van Hoevenberg, crews are icing the brand new bobsled-luge-skeleton track for the first competition to be staged on it. The track, which replaces the luge track built for the 1980 Lake Placid Games, is nearly a mile long with 21 curves.

It obviously has piqued a great deal of interest among the world's elite lugers. Germany's Georg Hackl, the record-setting winner of the last three Olympic golds in singles competition, Markus Prock of Austria, and Jens Muller of Germany, the current World Champion, head the field.

The hopes of the United States will rest on its strong doubles teams of Gordie Sheer and Chris Thorpe, who won silver at Nagano, and Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin, bronze medalists at Nagano and two-time World Cup champs.

``It's important for us to host the Goodwill Games,'' said Sheer, who now lives in Lake Placid. ``It'll give us the home-field advantage again. That's something we haven't had for a long, long time.''

The women's luge field is highlighted by a group of Germans. Germany has won the last 20 international races, including a medal sweep of the 2000 Luge World Championships held earlier this month in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Sylke Otto, the current World Champion and 1999-2000 World Cup overall points champion, leads a team that also features Silke Kraushaar, the 1998 Olympic gold medalist, and Barbara Niedernhuber, silver medalist at Nagano.

The U.S. women's team will feature new faces in Becky Wilczak, of River Forest, Ill., Courtney Zablocki, of Highlands Ranch, Colo., Brenna Margol, of Sawyer, Mich., and Ashley Hayden, of Westboro, Mass.

Security-wise, authorities are taking no chances. The FBI and counterterrorism SWAT teams already have arrived, and security is expected to be tight along the nearby Canadian border for the four-day competition.

FBI agents said there have been no threats of terrorism and called the increased security measures precautionary.

Copyright (c) 2000 The Associated Press