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Olympic-sized Prediction

Lausanne, Switzerland, Jan. 17, 2002 (AP by Stephen Wilson)--The United States never has won more than 13 medals at a Winter Olympics. Next month, it expects to almost double that record.

Buoyed by the recent performances of skater Michelle Kwan, skier Bode Miller and other athletes, U.S. Olympic Committee leaders predicted Wednesday that Americans would win at least 20 medals at the Salt Lake City Games.

U.S. medal prospects figured prominently as new USOC chief executive Lloyd Ward and USOC president Sandra Baldwin met with International Olympic Committee head Jacques Rogge.

``I am very optimistic that we will win our 20 medals,'' Baldwin said in an interview. ``It was a real stretch when we started. But my personal count may even be a little higher than that. I have every confidence if a couple of key athletes don't get hurt that we'll be right there.''

The United States, which often dominates the medals table at the Summer Olympics, is not a traditional winter sports power. American athletes won 13 medals at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, matching the total achieved in 1994 at Lillehammer, Norway.

But host nations traditionally experience an increase in medals, and the United States should also benefit from the addition of skeleton and women's bobsled in Salt Lake.

Kwan's scintillating victory at last week's U.S. figure skating championships and Miller's series of wins and podium finishes on the World Cup ski circuit this winter have added to the USOC's high hopes.

``If Michelle Kwan skates as beautifully as she did Sunday, it was breathtaking, that should surely be a gold,'' Baldwin said. `And I think we'll get some golds in skiing.''

Baldwin also cited medal chances in snowboarding, freestyle skiing, speedskating and bobsledding.

``It has been the expectation that the United States must get strong in winter sport and this is our showcase opportunity,'' she said. ``We've invested a lot of time and money in having our winter sports do well and we'll have a great legacy with the facilities afterwards. Now we just have to watch it pay off.''

Ward said he shared Baldwin's medal expectations.

``Everybody seems to be peaking at the right time,'' he said. ``We like what we see.''

Rogge said 20 medals is a ``fairly reasonable objective.''

``The performance of the home team is of vital importance for the spirit of the games,'' he said. ``Also, the legacy of Salt Lake will give them a more permanent position in winter sports. They were lagging a little bit behind in winter sports compared to the summer. Salt Lake will definitely bridge that gap.''

Ward, a former co-captain of the Michigan State basketball team, said he can't wait for the Winter Games to start on Feb. 8.

``I'm really excited,'' he said. ``It's kind of like playing my first basketball game in college, the adrenaline rush I had before the tip-off. I'm ready to get the games on.''

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