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Character study

Montillet-Carles honored the Games, unlike Miller

Posted: Sunday February 26, 2006 7:54PM; Updated: Monday February 27, 2006 12:28PM
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Carole Montillet-Carles
Carole Montillet-Carles skied in the downhill despite suffering a crash that mashed her goggles into her face.
Bob Martin/SI
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We asked the Sports Illustrated writers who covered the Turin Olympics to leave us with their indelible memory of the Games.

On the first Wednesday of the Olympic Games, I was at the bottom of a ski hill in San Sicario, trolling the media pen known as the mixed zone. (Because, in theory, athletes and media mix there for the purpose of exchanging information, which is dramatically different from the uncivilized scrumming that actually takes place. But I digress and you're heard all this before.) I was in this mixed zone, having just joined 30 or so of my compatriots in talking to U.S. skier Lindsey Kildow, who skied the women's downhill just two days after a terrible training crash that left her blessedly unbroken but decidedly sore.

I walked away from my Kildow interview and bumped into Nate Vinton, the skilled ski writer from Ski Racing magazine (and more than occasionally, the New York Times).

"Did you see Montillet?'' Vinton asks me.

"I did not,'' I tell him.

"Right down there,'' Vinton says, pointing. "You won't believe it.''

I ambled down to the end of the pen, where a small group of French writers was gathered around Carole Montillet-Carles, the 32-year-old defending Olympic champion in the downhill.

Background check: Four years ago Montillet's victory in Salt Lake City was one of the most emotional moments of the Games. Four months earlier, Montillet's friend and teammate, Regine Cavagnoud, had been killed in a course collision with a coach while training on a glacier in Pitztal, Austria. Montillet had never won a World Cup downhill (her only victory was a Super G in 2001), yet she won the Olympic gold medal and dedicated it to her teammate. Nearly every racer cried that day.

Four years had passed, and Montillet-Carles (she got married between Olympics) had dropped from the radar screen until two days before the downhill. Eight skiers before Kildow's crash, Montillet-Carles also went down. It's not fair to compare diggers. Kildow's looked worse, but Montillet-Carles' was plenty nasty. Like Kildow, she landed on her back (suffering painfully bruised ribs), but then her body jackknifed and slammed her face into the snow, mashing her goggles into her face.

It was the goggle-smashing that left the image before us in the mixed zone. Montillet-Carles' face was an unimaginable mess. There were cuts running the breadth of her forehead and across the bridge of her nose onto her always-pudgy cheekbones. The entire lower half of her face was grotesquely swollen in various shades of purple. If Montillet-Carles weren't so bubbly and sweet, it would have been impossible to look at her.

On the day of this race, I blogged about the bravery of downhill skiers. Kildow. Montillet-Carles. All of them. I won't do that again.

But I still can't shake the image of Montillet-Carles's face from my mind, and I still can't believe that she stuffed her swollen head and tender face into a helmet and goggles and skied an Olympic downhill. She finished only 26th in the race, but it was impossible not to be struck by her passion. She simply refused to let an Olympic race take place without her.

Dramatic pause here.

Keep pausing.

Almost there, now.

Unlike Bode Miller.