Parisien's year still all downhill LILLEHAMMER Norway

February 21, 1994|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- A long year became longer for American Alpine skier Julie Parisien yesterday.

At one time, she was one of the world's greatest female skiers.

Now, she's in limbo.

"It's been a bummer of a year," said Parisien, who has gone through a new coach, a death in her family and a winless World Cup tour. "Sometimes I just get tired of it all, the struggle with self doubt and confidence. But I've got to fight, I've got to carry on."

Parisien, 22, from Sugarloaf, Maine, missed Gate No. 31 on the 2,418-meter combined downhill course, causing her to forfeit a spot in the combined slalom race today.

Medals will be awarded based on the aggregate time of both races.

Germany's Katja Seizinger finished with the fastest time yesterday, 1 minute, 27.28 seconds. American Picabo Street was second in 1:28.19, which is 33 seconds ahead of Italy's Isolde Kostner.

Those three finished in the same order in the finals of the women's downhill race Saturday.

Street, silver medalist in the downhill, will be at a disadvantage in the slalom portion of the race today.

"I haven't trained a whole lot of slalom, so I'm just going to go out and wing it," Street said.

Parisien was on pace with the leaders until a wide turn forced her to lose a little control and miss the gate nearly halfway through the race.

"I was close to a record pace," said Parisien. "If I didn't get the record, I would have at least been in the top eight or nine before the second day of competition. Now this.

"Now I have to go back to the village and get my head together for the slalom races," she said. "There have been a lot of troubled times, but I have to recover. It's not like it used to be."

Parisien was a star at 16 when she made the U.S. ski team for the first time. She burst into international prominence at the 1992 Winter Olympic Games by finishing fourth in the slalom race.

Actually, Parisien was first going into the final run, but some conservative skiing cost her a gold medal.

She missed medaling by .05 of a second.

"I just kind of said, 'Here, take the gold,' " said Parisien. "I decided I was never going to feel that way again. Complacency gets a ski racer nowhere. That's what I learned at the Olympics."

Parisien skied well that season, her first on the World Cup tour on a full-time basis. She had top-10 finishes in the slalom, giant slalom and Super G.

She won the final 1992 World Cup slalom, and the first one of the 1993 season in the Thanksgiving opener in Park City, Utah.

She was ranked No. 1.

But tragedy struck a few weeks later when her 24-year-old brother, Jean Paul, was killed in an automobile accident by an intoxicated driver on a rainy night in Maine.

Jean Paul had returned to Maine for the holidays from Boulder, Colo., where he was attending school.

"He was my hero, my idol," said Parisien. "We were best of friends and we did a lot of things together. We're a skiing family, and he taught me to be competitive. He was outgoing just like me.

"Everything was going fine, but then came Paul's death. I think I handled it well, but there were periods where I had trouble concentrating. I needed a lot of positive reinforcement."

Parisien thought she needed her own personal coach, someone who also could manage the newfound stardom that brought along a load of media requests.

She hired Rob Clayton.

That didn't work, either.

Parisien finished second in the women's slalom Feb. 2, 1993, in Morioka, Japan, but never placed higher than fourth in any other

World Cup race.

She was never lower than 10th, either, but this is Julie Parisien.

Last November, U.S Alpine director Paul Major forced Parisien and Clayton to separate.

"I didn't see any better results, so I thought we should terminate it," said Major.

"I think Julie missed the competition among us," said teammate Hilary Lindh. "We all train together, lift weights together and push each other. She did all these things by herself, but who was there to push her?"

She has pushed herself to keep an Olympic gold in sight. One chance faded yesterday, but there's still the slalom race left.

Those who know Parisien say she has great resilience. They remember the Austrian tourist who crisscrossed Parisien's training course and plowed into her face, breaking four teeth and causing a year's worth of dental work.

Three days later, Parisien was carving a line so close on a slalom course in Italy that she broke her wrist on a gate.

They remember how after the 1992 Games, Parisien boldly faced the crowd and press after blowing the lead.

Parisien was a gracious loser again yesterday, posing for pictures, doing interviews, slapping high-fives and chatting with friends.

Shouldn't she be mad? Angry? Disappointed?

"I learned a lot from my brother's death, how life can become so precious, yet taken away instantly," said Parisien.

"This is the Olympics and every moment should be golden. It's hard not to be upbeat with the medals we're winning. I've gotten stronger from my troubles this year. I'll recover."

"She's a positive and upbeat person who was stung by the death of her brother," said Judy Phillips, a friend from Vermont. "But she always talks about how her brother's death gave her more strength.

"She's a very strong woman," Phillips said. "She'll be back. She's like The Terminator. Count on it."

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