U.S. thrown for a loop in freestyle medal debut LILLEHAMMER '94

February 25, 1994|By Chicago Tribune

LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- Freestyle ski jumping, in all its twisting, turning, backbending glory, landed squarely on its feet for the first time yesterday as an Olympic medal sport.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the Americans, who for years championed the sport for inclusion in the Winter Games.

Trace Worthington, considered to have the best chance among U.S. freestyle jumpers to win a medal, saw his inability to stick a good landing on the first of two leaps spoil solid routines that had him in contention. He ended in fifth place.

"I'm very unhappy about my performance only for the fact that I've done better," he said. "If I had done my best and just missed out on the medals, then I would be very disappointed. I didn't do my best."

Worthington's fifth-place among men was the top finish by any of the four Americans getting through preliminaries and into the final round.

Eric Bergoust was seventh, followed by Kris Fedderson in 11th. Tracy Evans, the only U.S. woman to get through preliminaries, got a seventh-place finish.

Switzerland's Andreas Schoenbaechler easily outdistanced the men's field for the gold medal. He was one of four jumpers to add an extra, full twist and the only to touch down perfectly. Canada's Phil La- Roche and Lloyd Langolis got the silver and bronze, respectively.

Some history was made in the women's competition. In addition to winning the sport's first Olympic gold, Lina Tcherjazova became the first from her new country -- Uzbekistan, formerly part of the Soviet Union -- to win any medal.

"I'm very, very happy, but I still don't understand I'm the Olympic champion," she said. "The situation is difficult in my country."

Tcherjazova, who had difficulties in preliminaries earlier in the week, exploded off the ramp in her first jump to build a scoring margin that proved insurmountable. Rivals were in awe of her triple twist.

Everyone talked like a winner after the finals. The freestyle jumpers fought hard to get their event, a demonstration sport two years ago in Albertville, into the program.

Moguls became part of the regular program in 1992 and now the free- stylers are lobbying hard for ballet to be part of the '98 Olympics in Japan.

"I think it was a big accomplishment to have three people in the finals [for men] and something we wanted to do," Fedderson said. "But we definitely wanted to bring home some medals, so I think we're all a little disappointed in how we jumped. We are all capable of bringing home medals."

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