Saturday competitors mull skipping opening fanfare 

The day before his final Olympics get under way will not be restful for Tony Benshoof.

That's his choice.

Athletes like Benshoof who are set to compete Saturday, the first full day of competition at the Vancouver Olympics, are facing a thorny dilemma. Some will choose between standing for several hours Friday night at the opening ceremony — plus, for those staying in Whistler, at least five hours of travel down and back — or bypassing what may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

Benshoof marched in 2002 for the Salt Lake City Games, then skipped the show at Turin in 2006.

This time, he didn't hesitate when deciding to be part of the magnificent cauldron-lighting spectacle, especially after seeing the sharp outfit made by Polo Ralph Lauren — cotton fleece pants, navy and red down jacket, cable turtleneck, and a wool hat with a U.S. flag — for the American contingent to wear for the ceremony.

"It's so fun," Benshoof said. "It's hard to give up."

Not everyone would necessarily agree with that — especially some Canadians, who'll miss their country's welcome-the-world soiree.

The Olympic men's luge event starts late Saturday afternoon, about 18 hours after the opening ceremony is expected to end. Canada's trio of sliders in the men's field, Jeff Christie, Ian Cockerline and Samuel Edney, made the decision that they would be better off staying in Whistler and watching it on television than taxing themselves with the travel.

They could always change their mind at the last second, but each seems steadfast in staying sidelined Friday night.

"We went into this one knowing that we probably wouldn't even go," Edney said. "Ian, Jeff and myself all decided not to go and that's something each of us made as a personal decision. Yeah, it's probably one of the highlights of any Olympic Games, but we're really here to do our job and that's to slide. And we just happen to slide the next day."

It's a risky choice for those attending the opening ceremony. The ride along the Sea-to-Sky highway — the road linking Vancouver and Whistler — can be treacherous and longer if weather or traffic is an issue. The earliest the U.S. contingent of Benshoof, Bengt Walden and Chris Mazdzer can hope to be back in Whistler after the ceremony is probably somewhere around 1 a.m., and there's a strong chance it'll be later.

Sure, the luge race doesn't begin until 5 p.m. Saturday, but the potential for problems are undeniable.

"I think it's going to be a good show," Benshoof said.

That's what sold Mazdzer on going to the ceremony.

An Olympic rookie, Mazdzer got off the plane in Vancouver this week still not fully convinced it was a good idea to expend a lot of energy Friday night. As his credential was getting processed at the airport, Mazdzer made up his mind.

"The guy checking me in, he asked me about going," Mazdzer said. "He was like, 'Well, just to let you know, I'm in it, we just had a dress rehearsal and it is pretty amazing. You don't want to miss it.'"

Mazdzer was sold.

"First Olympics, I've got to feel it," Mazdzer said.

Some are still feeling it in their fifth Olympics. Italian luger Armin Zoeggeler, the two-time defending Olympic champion and a medalist in the last four games, plans to be in Vancouver for the ceremony — but declined a chance to be his nation's flagbearer.

Mark Grimmette didn't have a choice in that matter. That's another reason Benshoof is going to Vancouver.

With a chronically balky back, no one would have faulted Benshoof if he chose to watch this one from the athletes' village instead of spending time on his feet and on a bus. Instead, he decided a chance to take photos — Benshoof is accomplished with a camera — plus mingle with other American stars the luge crew wouldn't otherwise see was worth the risk.

Plus, with Grimmette being selected Wednesday night as the American flagbearer, Benshoof plans to be near the front of the U.S. pack with his longtime teammate and two-time doubles medalist.

"I'm hoping I'll get to walk a little bit behind him," Benshoof said, "so I can get some face time."

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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