To Kitt, it's mettle not medal that matters

February 10, 1992|By Bob Sansevere | Bob Sansevere,Knight-Ridder News Service

VAL D'ISERE, France -- Before he saw his time, before he learned his race down one of the earth's most demanding ski runs just wasn't fast enough, AJ Kitt thought he had a shot at some Olympic glory.

"When I crossed the finish line, I felt like I had a chance for a good result," Kitt said. "I felt satisfied. Before I looked at the time, I said to myself, 'Good run. You done a good job no matter what happens.' "

What happened is that Kitt, America's best shot for a medal in men's Alpine skiing events, finished ninth in the downhill.

Ninth. He had to be disappointed. You would think.

"I'm not necessarily pleased, but I'm not disappointed," Kitt said.

Kitt snapped at a reporter who asked if he'd resent it if the media depicted his ninth-place finish as a disappointment.

"People can say what they want," Kitt said. "Don't say I'm disappointed. I'm not disappointed. If you're disappointed, write it. Don't say I'm disappointed."

OK, he's not disappointed. But he still was ninth. His time of 1 minute, 51.98 seconds was more than a second behind winner Patrick Ortlieb of Austria (1:50.37).

Ortlieb was the first of 55 racers to go down the technically demanding 1.8-mile course known as Le Face de Bellevarde. Of those who followed, nine failed to complete the race and one was disqualified. "I knew time was good," Ortlieb said in fractured English. "But I wasn't sure."

When you're the first one down a course and there are 54 others still to go, you can never be sure. But Ortlieb had to be pretty sure after Franck Piccard of France came in at 1:50.42, good for the silver medal. Third went to Austrian Guenther Mader (1:50.47). Piccard was the 24th racer down the course; most of the top skiers were among the first 15 starters.

Kitt, who won the season's first World Cup race on a different course at Val d'Isere in December, drew the 15th spot. Mader drew 14th.

"Starting 15th is always fun," Kitt said. "You know how you did

when you're done. You don't have to wait around."

Kitt waited around anyway, watching everybody either come down or fall down. A few skiers had to be helped off the course after spills. By waiting, Kitt also faced a gauntlet of reporters all wanting to know if he was disappointed. After all, he's trained the last four years for a race that lasts less than two minutes. Kitt also is entered in the combined event, which includes downhill and slalom runs, but his chance at a medal isn't as promising as it was in the downhill.

"Because I'm ninth in the Olympics doesn't mean I'm a bad person or a bad skier," Kitt said. "A lot of people don't understand that, but that's how I look at it."

A lot of people don't understand how different some downhill courses can be. Back in December, Kitt predicted he would not "have too much success at the Olympics." The Olympic course was designed by Bernhard Russi, the Olympic gold medalist for Switzerland in 1972. Kitt disliked Russi's tight, conservative design so much that he was quoted as saying in December, "I don't know where he got his great reputation."

One-third down the course, which drops 3,100 feet from start to finish, is Tower Turn. It's renowned for a 110-degree right turn that leads directly into a 90-degree left turn.

"The bottom half is the most demanding, most technical part of the course," Kitt said after his race. "There are a couple of sections you can't make mistakes on, otherwise you'll be slow."

How did Kitt do on those sections?

"I did well," Kitt said. "Maybe not fantastic, but I did well."

That about sums up his ninth-place finish, too.

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