Compagnoni's golden 'destiny' LILLEHAMMER '94

February 25, 1994|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

RINGEBU, Norway -- Deborah Compagnoni's cheeks had started to turn red as the tears flowed down them. She tried to talk, but nothing came out. The tears kept dropping.

Two years ago, her career almost ended in this race in Albertville, France. But now she had conquered the race and dedicated it to her friend who died two weeks before the start of the Lillehammer Games, Austrian skier Ulrike Maier.

"This was her race," said Compagnoni. "And this was destiny. I had to finish the race I started."

Compagnoni, of Italy, won the gold medal in the women's giant slalom yesterday in a time of 2 minutes, 30.97 seconds. She blew away the competition, leading silver medalist Martina Ertl of Germany by 1.22 seconds and bronze medalist Vreni Schneider of Switzerland by two seconds.

The highest American finisher was Eva Twardokens, of Santa Cruz, Calif., who was sixth.

Two years ago in Albertville, a day after she won the gold medal in the super giant slalom, Compagnoni was headed down the giant slalom course when she fell and injured her left knee.

Her screams of pain were recorded on a TV microphone, and the fTC scene became one of the worst of the 1992 Winter Games.

"Even when I hear them replayed, it still sends a chill up and down my spine," said Compagnoni. "I didn't know I was `f screaming so loud. The pain was much greater."

But Compagnoni had the knee rebuilt at a private hospital in Lyon, France. She won just one giant slalom race last season while still in rehabilitation, but regained her form this season, winning three straight after Dec. 5.

The medal yesterday was the final payback.

"I had the same bib, No. 14, I had in the giant slalom when I fell in Albertville," said Compagnoni. "I have dreamed about this moment for quite a while."

Compagnoni has had to overcome quite a lot. She missed the 1988 Olympics and the 1991 world championships because of injuries, and almost died months later with an intestinal blockage.

Her father rushed her to the hospital. If another half-hour had passed, Compagnoni would have been dead.

Compagnoni reflected on those times yesterday, and then thought about Maier, who was killed in a downhill race in Germany on Jan. 29.

"I dedicate this to her, she is not forgotten," said Compagnoni.

Teammates call Compagnoni the female Alberto Tomba, not only because she trains with him, but because of her strength.

But Tomba bombed Wednesday in the men's giant slalom, adding to the speculation that his poor training habits are slowing him down. Compagnoni's countrymen rushed to her side after she finished, restoring Italian pride.

Even Tomba got in on the act.

"He called me 10 minutes after the race," Compagnoni said. "He said he wanted to celebrate later tonight. I told him that we would celebrate together, but we will also be celebrating his victory Sunday [in the slalom].

"I'm overjoyed about the gold medal and the faith my people have shown in me."

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