Giant slalom hardly super for U.S. women

Lalive falls for 8th time in row as Italian triumphs

Winter Olympics Salt Lake City 2002

February 18, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

PARK CITY, Utah - On a day when an Italian fighter pilot's daughter soared to heights previously unreachable, four Americans skiers stumbled their way to more disappointment.

Daniela Ceccarelli of Italy, who inherited a love for speed and adrenaline rushes from her father, Roberto, was a surprise gold-medal winner in the women's super-G yesterday at Snowbasin, flying down the Wildflower course in 1 minute, 13.59 seconds.

Janica Kostelic of Croatia finished .05 of a second back to win the silver, her second of the games after winning gold in the combined. Italy's Karen Putzer nabbed the bronze.

"I owe my victory to my father," said Ceccarelli, who had never won on the World Cup circuit before. "He gave me the love for speed, and he always encouraged me to go for it, even when I was very little. This is like a dream for me."

Yesterday was more of a nightmare for the U.S. ski team, especially for Caroline Lalive, who failed to reach the finish line for the eighth consecutive time in an Olympic or world championship race.

One of America's best hopes for a medal coming into the games, Lalive, 22, crashed in all three of her races, falling just 14 seconds into the super-G. Her teammates didn't fare much better. Kristen Clark was the best American finisher, coming in 14th, and Jonna Mendes ran 16th and Katie Monahan 17th.

"Obviously, it was a very tough day, very disappointing," said U.S. women's ski coach Marian Cernigoj. "I really hoped Caroline could pull it together. We talked with her, and she was in pretty good spirits before the race, but the nervousness took care of that."

Lalive's problems appear to be more mental than technical, though she declined to speak with reporters after her race.

The only American woman to score World Cup points in all five disciplines this season, Lalive was supposed to carry the torch for the next generation of U.S. women's skiers after the retirement of Picabo Street.

However, her Olympic performance posed some serious doubts as to whether she is ready to accept that role.

"Caroline's struggling right now, but she knows she's just as capable as any woman out here of standing on that podium," said Mendes, one of Lalive's closest friends. "The Olympics have been on both of our minds literally every day for the last few years. And right now, it's kind of devastating."

Before the games, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association predicted Americans would win 10 medals here. The United States still may get there, but only because seven of those medals have come from snowboarding and freestyle. Only Bode Miller, who won silver in the men's combined, has graced the podium on the alpine side.

The skiers may be beginning to feel the pressure. Mendes acknowledged she was so nervous before her super-G run, she felt like she was going to throw up. Eventually she calmed down, but it mattered little, as she finished a full 1.66 seconds behind Ceccarelli's gold-medal pace.

"I wouldn't want to be in her shoes. All of us realize what a hard thing she is going through," Monahan said. "We're trying to help her and support her and hopefully break her out of this rut."

"I really wanted to come out of here with a medal, and [Lalive] definitely felt that way too," Mendes said. "It's definitely going to take some time to deal with this."

It will take some time for Ceccarelli to deal with it as well, but in a very different way. Born in Rome, Ceccarelli was sent by her parents to Northern Italy as a 15-year-old because there were no hills big enough for her to ski fast enough. She spent a lot of lonely nights by herself, but realized it had all been worth it when she saw her name atop the scoreboard.

"My parents gave me the passion to ski, but I think the one merit I have on my own is that I dared to dream," Ceccarelli said.

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