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Sports 101

Q: Why are professional hockey players allowed to participate in the Olympics?

A: According to "The Complete Book of the Winter Olympics, 1998," by David Wallechinsky, Olympic ice hockey remained a sport for amateurs until Communist Czechoslovakia joined in 1948 and the Soviet Union followed in 1956. Their teams were all full-time hockey players, but because their salaries were paid by governments and not by profitmaking clubs, they were considered amateurs. This gave an edge to the USSR and Czechoslovakia, which were able to use their best and most experienced players, while the rest of the world had only those who were still amateurs. After Canada and Sweden boycotted the sport in the 1970s, the International Ice Hockey Federation voted in 1987 to make all professionals, including players from the NHL, eligible for the Olympics.

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The 1998 Games is the first time, however, that the NHL has suspended the season for a two-week period. The NBA also suspends its season for the summer Olympics.

Q: What is ice dancing, and how does it differ from pairs figure skating?

A: Ice dancing was added to the winter Olympics in 1976. The competition is based on different aspects of dance, with the emphasis on rhythm and steps. Ice dancers skate very close to one other and must remain in unison and contact during the program. They aren't allowed to separate for more than a few seconds. Moves seen in pairs skating, such as overhead lifts and jumps, are prohibited in dance. Following the 1992 Olympics, the Technical Committee on Dance of the International Skating Union issued new restrictions. The moves and behaviors prohibited are:

1. Lying on the ice.

2. Holding the partner's skates.

3. Sitting or lying over the partner's leg without having at least one foot on the ice.

4. Jumping for more than three revolutions.

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5. Spinning or pirouetting for more than three revolutions.

6. Sitting or lying on the partner's shoulder or back.

Also, male skaters are required to wear trousers (no tights), and female skaters must wear skirts.

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