Kronberger's victory in the combined led members of the press to expectations of a multimedal Olympics, and they began to pester Kronberger about the possibility of winning five golds. Laughing lightly, the ever cheerful Kronberger replied, "I am not an Übermensch [superhuman]. I don't just press a button and say, 'I'd like a gold, please.' If I don't win any more medals, I won't be unhappy."
That's good, since Kronberger was shut out in her very next event, the downhill.
Le Roc de Fer was in a peculiar state on the day of this race. At times the light was bright enough to define the terrain quite sharply. At times the light dimmed, and the Roc's wild contours turned visually flat and difficult to discern—especially for skiers streaking along at 60 mph. And at times a softly falling snow coated the course. The downhill would be a different race for different racers.
The first six proceeded without mishap. Then Chantal Bournissen of Switzerland, a favorite, fell just above the finish. She was unhurt, but the race was delayed for several minutes while workers repaired the course. Snow continued falling, and by the time the competition resumed, a thin layer of fresh flakes had covered the Roc. Katja Seizinger of Germany skied down in 1:52.67, and Kronberger followed, .06 of a second slower. They stood one-two. Next came Lee-Gartner, traveling on a course that was the barest bit slicker because of Seizinger's and Kronberger's snow-removing runs. Lee-Gartner covered it in 1:52.55 and took over first place. Then Veronika Wallinger of Austria followed in 1:52.64—she moved into second—and it was clear that the course was getting fractionally faster.
The 16th racer was Lindh. She had never finished better than sixth in a World Cup downhill. Her training runs in Méribel had been just so-so, with the worst a 10th-place finish the day before the race. She had missed an invaluable chance last winter to compete in a World Cup downhill on Le Roc de Fer when the U.S. team was suddenly hustled out of Méribel at the outset of the gulf war to protect the skiers from potential terrorist acts in Europe. "The war really messed things up," said Lindh. "We lost a really good chance to train."
But on this important day Lindh looked as if she had been raised on the Roc. "She just left yesterday behind," said Major.
Lindh started out a bit slowly. "There is. a big turn after the face that I wasn't very clean on," she said later. "That made me mad, and I wanted to catch up." She was only eighth fastest at the first interval, but she started making up remarkable chunks of time. "In the middle section of the course, where all the bumps were, I felt pretty good and aggressive. I never had problems with any of the jumps: I didn't go very far in the air." Moving ever faster over the day's slickest snow, Lindh streaked toward the finish. "At the bottom I skied my best." She crossed the line in second place—a bare .06 of a second behind Lee-Gartner's time.
Despite Lindh's fine run, the predominantly European crowd remained eerily quiet, much as it had when Lee-Gartner Hashed over the finish line in first. Lindh had no idea if she had raced boldly or badly. "I didn't think I did real well," she said later. "Then I looked at the scoreboard." She began jumping up and down for joy while still wearing her skis. "That little dance looked pretty funny, with skis and poles," she said, smiling.
It had been one of the tightest of Olympic races; only .18 of a second separated Lee-Gartner's gold medal from Kronberger's fifth place. However, because the race was so close, there was much grousing among some Europeans about how various subtle changes in course conditions might have unfairly benefited the upstart North Americans. Seizinger, in particular, was irked, and she complained to the German press: "This downhill is too difficult. We shouldn't have to race on it when we can't see well."
"Cry me a river," commented Major.