Solitary run: alone, first at top, finish

February 16, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

KVITFJELL,NORWAY — KVITFJELL, Norway -- In the early morning, she thought of Ulrike Maier.

They had much in common, the American from upstate New York and the Austrian from Rauris, outside Salzburg.

They were both 26, racers nearing the end of their careers together, yearning to go out on an edge in one last Winter Olympics.

Diann Roffe-Steinrotter got to Norway, got to the winner's podium yesterday in the race that Maier loved the most, the Super G.

But Maier was not at the bottom of the hill to greet her friend. The Austrian was killed in a downhill crash in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, two weeks before the Games began, and the memory of her looms like a ghost over the mountains she conquered and the racers she left behind.

"She was a fighter," Roffe-Steinrotter said. "She could race like no one else. She should have been an American the way she raced at big events."

This is the biggest event of all and the partial score after two Alpine events at the Winter Olympics reads like this:

Americans 2. Rest of the World 0.

Roffe-Steinrotter shocked the skiing world by winning the gold in the women's Super G.

Coupled with Tommy Moe's triumph Sunday, the American Alpine team is pulling off the biggest surprise of the Games.

"Everyone is asking me, 'What is going on with the Americans?' " Roffe-Steinrotter said. "If I knew, I'd tell you."

fTC The secret may be as simple as finding a few racers who actually view the Olympics as a big deal.

For Roffe-Steinrotter, this was a last-chance Olympics, an opportunity to cap a career that began with bright hopes and a 1985 World Championship gold medal.

Roffe-Steinrotter, 5 feet 4, is retiring at the end of the World Cup season. When the spring comes, she'll head home to upstate New York to complete her college degree at Clarkson, where her husband Willi is the ski and soccer coach.

To be blunt, she was in the midst of an awful season. Last !B December, she bottomed out in Tignes, France, failing to make the cut of 30 at a giant slalom event.

"For her to win here is the most unbelievable thing I've seen in athletics," said U.S. women's coach Paul Major. "She was down and out."

But Roffe-Steinrotter said she could rebuild her confidence in the few short weeks leading to the Olympics.

"I'm a fighter, not a quitter," she said.

"I knew I didn't want to be fourth, or fifth, or sixth," said Roffe-Steinrotter, a giant slalom silver medalist in 1992.

"At the Olympic Games, if you don't risk everything, you won't be there."

A5 There was risk, all right, first racer out of the

gate, first to the bottom, a giant No. 1 on her back and a grimace on her face.

There were no tracks on the snow to guide her, no instructions relayed from coaches squawking on walkie-talkies to confuse her, no split times on a scoreboard to make her heart race.

"I went strictly on instinct," she said.

This was Roffe-Steinrotter against a mountain.

And it was beautiful.

"It's one day, one hill, 1 1/2 minutes and whoever shakes and bakes the best is going to get a gold medal," she said. "I was extremely, extremely nervous in the start. Like, sick-to-my-stomach nervous."

She raced wild, and raced free, attacking the top portion of the slope, picking up speed through the turns, and coming in with a time of 1 minute, 22.15 seconds.

She didn't know if it would stand up through the morning.

But it did not matter. She had done her best.

She spent another hour standing and waiting, looking up at a giant video screen to see if any other racer could beat the time.

None could.

Svetlana Gladischeva of Russia took the silver, nearly three-tenths of a second out of first.

Isolde Kostner of Italy took the bronze.

Roffe-Steinrotter celebrated. Out of the stands came her mother, Kay, who put her only daughter on skis when she was 3, and then watched as the young girl grew into a champion. Her 12-year-old brother Chris was here, too.

"It was like everything great in our lives came together in that one moment," Willi Steinrotter said.

And then, the winner was back in a VIP tent, telling of her day, when she went first down a mountain and stood first on a podium.

She talked of winning and family and medals. And then, she talked of a friend now gone, a woman named Ulrike Maier.

"I thought about if she was up there, looking down," Roffe-Steinrotter said. "She would tell everyone, 'Put 'em downhill and give it your best shot.' "

Roffe-Steinrotter raced hard and brave, first up, first down, good as gold.

UNITED STATES' ALPINE GOLD

Gold medals won at the Olympics by the United States in

Alpine skiing:

1994: Lillehammer, Norway

Athlete .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Event

Tommy Moe .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..downhill

Diann Roffe-Steinrotter .. .. .. .. Super G

1984: Sarajevo, Yugoslavia

Athlete .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Event

Bill Johnson .. .. .. .. .. .. .. downhill

Debbie Armstrong .. .. .. .. .. .. giant slalom

Phil Mahre .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. slalom

1972: Sapporo, Japan Athlete.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Event

Barbara Cochran .. .. .. .. .. .. .. slalom

1952: Oslo, Norway

Athlete .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Event

Andrea Lawrence .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. slalom

Andrea Lawrence .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. giant slalom

1948: St. Moritz, Switzerland

Athlete .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Event

Gretchen Fraser .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..combined

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