Speed skating could turn out to be the surprise hit of the Salt Lake City Olympics.
And the improbable household name of the Games? Apolo Ohno.
American speed skaters could potentially take home a number of medals, NBC Sports execs say.
"For the first time in a Winter Olympics on American television, you're going to see Americans probably doing well in events that we've never seen them do well in before," NBC Sports chairman, Dick Ebersol said yesterday.
"We don't know why we'll remember Salt Lake yet," said Jim McKay who's on loan to NBC from ABC Sports for these Games. "But the games will write their own story and our job will be to recognize it and weave it together," he said.
Although there's no way to know which events will produce memorable Olympic stories, it is necessary for NBC to make some bets beforehand on who will shine during its 17 days of TV coverage — if only so they can be prepared.
Among the next generation of potential Olympic TV stars are 19-year-old Apolo Anton Ohno, the defending World Cup short track champion who could win multiple medals, and Jennifer Rodriguez.
"We have an enormous story in front of us with Jennifer Rodriguez who less than five and-a-half years ago was an inline skater in her hometown of Miami and had never been on ice and now she's got to be considered an overwhelming favorite for a medal and perhaps even two," Ebersol said.
Ohno will be a favorite in four different events: the 500 meter, 1000 meter, 1500 meter and the relay.
"Ohno is the one American going into these games who people feel could win as many as four medals in short-track speed skating which is sort of the modern-day equivalent of roller-derby," Ebersol said.
"It'll be fun to follow his story and his story spins out over the entirety of the Olympics all the way to the next to the last night," he said.