Course has been all downhill for battered women skiers

February 12, 1992

The women wanted a real downhill course for the Olympics, and a real downhill course is exactly what they have. Unfortunately, the unforgiving Roc de Fer (French for "Rock of Iron") has already knocked some of them out of the Winter Games.

Medal contender Sabine Ginther of Austria, Lucie Laroche of Canada and Wendy Fisher of the United States were injured practicing on the course designed by 1972 Olympic downhill champion Bernhard Russi.

All three were prepping for today's downhill portion of the combined event.

Ginther, one of the favorites for gold medals in the combined event and Saturday's downhill, was the most seriously hurt, breaking a bone in her lower back and ending her Olympic hopes and her skiing season.

She sailed off a bump and tumbled about 140 feet down a steep drop-off. Her back absorbed most of the impact as she bounced down the icy slope.

"It's the end of the season for her," Austrian downhill coach Franz Kolhuber said.

The Austrian Press Association, quoting team physician Dr. Karl Benedetto, described the injury as a lumbar vertebra fracture. According to reports, Ginther's injury is not grave, and she is not paralyzed.

Fisher took the same spill and banged her head, briefly losing consciousness. She suffered a mild concussion, a broken left thumb and sprains of both knees. She won't race in the Olympics.

Laroche aggravated a knee injury and is out of the Games.

Switzerland's Vreni Schneider skied the downhill course, decided she wasn't comfortable on her run, and opted to skip today's race. She'll concentrate on her specialties, the slalom and giant slalom next week.

When Russi laid out the women's course, he intended it as a test for the top skiers. It has proved to be that -- and more. After the Austrians emerged from the first two of four women's luge runs in first and second place, the Americans and Italians filed a formal protest, claiming the Austrians were wearing an outlawed stirrup on the back of their heels that held their toes in an aerodynamic point, giving them an unfair -- and illegal -- advantage.

Luge regulations have outlawed a boot that locked the feet -- that function like the nose of a rocket in this aerodynamic sport -- into a pointed position. U.S. coach Wolfgang Schaedler said he "saw something" while the Austrian women were dressing for the race.

A three-person jury made up of one American, one German and one Frenchman disallowed the protest.

So sorry

The U.S. ski team began helping skiers from Norway as a way to make amends for an accident in which a Norwegian coach broke his leg when American Megan Gerety crashed into him during practice.

"We feel we have a responsibility to help the Norwegians," U.S. team spokesman Tom Kelly said.

Coach Ole-Mage Valaker, who was hospitalized Monday after the collision, was to undergo surgery today.

"Megan made a mistake, there is no question about that," Kelly said.

"There is nothing we can do to take it back, but we are, as of yesterday afternoon, working together with the Norwegians to help fill in for the person they have lost."

The quote

"I wanted to pursue my education, and they wanted to go shopping." -- U.S. figure skater Paul Wylie, 27, on what it was like to train at a rink with 14-year-olds while completing his degree at Harvard.

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