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On Slippery Slopes
William Oscar Johnson
February 24, 1992
A pair of gritty North Americans dominated the downhill
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February 24, 1992

On Slippery Slopes

A pair of gritty North Americans dominated the downhill

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As for the two joyous medal winners from the New World, they paid no mind to the grumbling. Each had triumphed over pain and defeat to gain the Olympic podium. Each had come too far to let any negativity spoil the moment.

Lee-Gartner grew up skiing at the tiny Red Mountain ski area in British Columbia, the same little hill that produced the Canadian heroine Nancy Greene, who also won an Olympic gold medal in France (in the giant slalom at Grenoble in 1968). Unlike Greene, who was a star on the World Cup circuit, Lee-Gartner had not won a race in seven years of World Cup competition. She had endured five knee operations and a bad ankle injury before reaching this pinnacle.

Lindh, too, had suffered serious injuries. A skiing prodigy, she had progressed from the Eaglecrest slope to the Romark Ski Academy in Salt Lake City by age 14 and was a star American on the international junior circuit. In 1987, when she was 17, she knocked off two thirds of the cartilage protecting the bone in her right knee in a fall in Norway during the junior world championship downhill—an event she had won the year before. Dr. Richard Steadman, the U.S. Ski Team's renowned fixer of knees, said, "It was one of the worst injuries I have seen." He doubted Lindh would ever ski again.

Grimly she fought back, and in 1988, only a year after the crash, she started in the downhill at the Calgary Games. She did not finish. "I missed a gate," she said. "I put a lot of pressure on myself that year. I was hoping for a miracle."

Four years later she got one.

"I have definitely been kind of on hold for the last few years," she said after receiving her medal. "I have been on a plateau. I never made my breakthrough, and it has been frustrating. Now, no matter what happens, I've always got this."

True enough. And in a week of unpredictable weather and unpredictable skiing, Lindh's Alaska brand of homespun philosophizing could stand as well for everyone in the Alpine Olympic environment, even the relaxed Mssr. Killy himself. As he knows better than most, in skiing, sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn't. And besides: L'important, ce n'est pas ce qui await pu se passer, mais ce qui s'est réellement arrivé. Which means, rather roughly: "It doesn't matter what could have happened. This is what did happen."

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