Moe had to mature to get up to speed in downhill WINTER OLYMPICS

February 12, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

KVITFJELL, Norway -- When Tommy Moe was 16, his life was headed downhill.

He was drinking booze and smoking marijuana. His local ski team in Alaska even put him on probation for too much partying. So his father, a builder, set him to work 12 hours a day, six days a week, for three months, constructing steel buildings and foundations.

And then, Moe's father sat his son down and made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

"My father said to me, 'Where would you rather be right now? Skiing in Argentina? Or here, working for me?' " Moe said.

The answer was obvious.

"That turned me around," Moe said.

Now, Moe is a top ski racer, one of the hot young stars on the World Circuit. But tomorrow, he could step up in class, joining the giants of the sport.

They are holding the Super Bowl of the Winter Olympics with the running of the men's downhill.

Austria's Patrick Ortlieb and Hannes Trinkl, and Switzerland's William Besse are among the favorites.

Moe, 23, is on the second tier, looking for a courageous breakthrough on a two-mile run that drops a half-mile into a valley.

He likes the course. He loves the stakes. And he yearns to become the first American since Bill Johnson in 1984 to win the sport's greatest prize, the Olympic men's downhill gold medal.

"The door is wide open," he said. "Bill Johnson did it in 1984. The Olympics, that's the time to shine."

And this is a course that suits Moe's go-for-broke style. The layout starts above the tree line and ends just across a highway, cutting through a forest, going over a jump that hurls the skiers the length of a football-field through the air.

They'll reach top speeds of 80 miles an hour.

They'll ski along ice and snow, challenging themselves, challenging a mountain.

"Fear, it's always a big part of skiing," Moe said. "You don't want to crash and burn."

Two weeks ago, Moe took the first downhill fall of his career, cutting a gash in his left cheek.

"It felt like I ripped off half my face," Moe said.

While recovering, he grew a goatee and went on vacation in the Canary Islands. Tomorrow, he shaves. Tomorrow, the vacation ends in a wild one-minute, 45-second ride down a mountain.

"I don't have nothing to lose here," Moe said, sounding like a boxer ready to fight for the heavyweight title.

Moe started skiing at 4, but really got the bug in 1980, when he saw a tape of Franz Klammer's downhill run to win the 1976

Olympics.

"I said, 'Wow, that's cool. You know, I just went, 'Wow, this is unbelievable.' "

A few days before his 16th birthday, Moe popped a sixth-place finish at the Subaru U.S. Championships. He had arrived, long before he knew how to handle the success.

Moe is a risk-taker, a self-admitted "adrenalin junkie," who loves to go mountain biking and kayaking.

"But I don't do crazy stuff," he said. "I wouldn't go bungee jumping or leaping out of airplanes."

All he does is slide down a mountain at 80 miles an hour.

"Imagine yourself putting on a skintight suit and skis and helmet and just going as fast as you can down the side of a mountain," he said. "It's sort of cheating death a little bit, I guess."

Moe sidesteps disaster. He builds a career.

Usually, downhills are won or lost in a blink of an eye by the first 15 men who head out of the starting gate. At Kvitfjell last year in a pre-Olympic run, Moe was fourth overall, until the sun broke through the haze and a bunch of skiers in the back of the pack made the most of the light and bumped up in the standings.

"Here, you pray for sun," Moe said.

But if the sun doesn't come out, then raw power takes over.

"I'm the kind of guy who looks like he is going slow, but I'm really going fast," Moe said.

rTC In his first practice run Thursday, Moe stood up yards from the finish, but was still among the top 10. He didn't want the burden of a fast time to add to the pressure of a big race.

Tomorrow, though, he will hold nothing back.

Let others like Moe's U.S. teammate AJ Kitt talk of the satisfaction of gaining World Cup victories, of the beauty of skiing on such mountains as Kitzbuehl in Austria.

Moe aims to win. And he aims to win at Kvitfjell.

"If it's any time to take the most risk, it's now," he said. "The door is open."

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