Jean-Claude Killy, god of the Albertville Olympics, proclaimed: "I said I would relax on the third day...and now I can sit back and enjoy the rest of the Games." So on the third day Killy rested. After all, he didn't have to pull on long underwear and go to work as a ski-racing hero to justify his existence. For those who did, it was a mean and testing week, a week of awful pressure and awful mistakes, anything but relaxing. No-names blew out household names. Kings fell, queens got hurt. A pair of North Americans, including a lass from Alaska, finished one-two in a downhill.
The Alaskan interloper was Hilary Lindh, a heretofore hard-luck kid who was lucky enough this time out to draw fast snow, and she rode that track to the first U.S. women's downhill medal since Cindy Nelson won a bronze at Innsbruck in 1976. On a long—1¾ miles—and very difficult course Lindh got better with every jump and bump to finish second, less than a finger-snap behind Kerrin Lee-Gartner of Canada.
How unexpected was Lindh's silver? Well, it caught her hometown of Juneau, presumably populated by those who know her best, completely by surprise. Her dad, Craig, a natural resources consultant who used to set off avalanches with explosives as part of his job, had to be awakened by a 2:15 a.m. phone call delivering the news of his daughter's stunning success. In Juneau a welcome-home-Hilary committee was hastily organized, and by the time Craig and Barbara Lindh arrived at the Eaglecrest Ski Area for a couple of celebratory runs, the lift tickets had been specially printed: SILVR FOR HILRY.
Back in France the shy Hilary was philosophical. "Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn't," she said. "It doesn't matter what could have happened. This is what did happen."
What also happened on the slippery slopes of France last week was a small epidemic of upsets by upstarts. The off-form results started with the men's combined, a doubleheader competition that opens with a downhill and continues with a two-run slalom. The favorites were the famous: Paul Accola, the Swiss leader of this season's World Cup; Luxembourg's Marc Girardelli, the veteran who had won every kind o( Alpine skiing prize except an Olympic medal; Austria's Günther Mader, a versatile racer who had already won the bronze medal in the downhill; Mader's teammate Hubert Strolz, the 1988 gold medalist in the combined. Each went down in ignominy. Girardelli and Mader fell early in the downhill portion, and Accola fouled up in the first run of the slalom. As for Strolz, he placed 13th in the downhill—very good for a slalom specialist like him—and he followed that effort with a terrific first slalom run. Then Strolz slashed through the gates a second time, just as beautifully, until four gates from the finish on flat terrain he simply slid off the course. "I was already at the finish in my thoughts," he said later.
With the mighty fallen, in marched a pair of unknown foot soldiers from Italy. Josef Polig placed sixth in the downhill and fifth in the slalom, but thanks to the arcane scoring of the combined event, those results added up to a gold medal. The silver went to Gianfranco Martin, who placed second in the downhill and seventh in the slalom. The day after their shocking one-two finish, Polig and Martin were helicoptered to Sestriere in Italy's Cottian Alps for a hastily arranged celebration. Hundreds of children had been let out of school, ski lessons had been canceled, and the welcome-home-Josef-and-Gianfranco committee had already gone to work. Among the thousand there to greet the no-names by name was the generalissimo himself. Alberto Tomba, winner of gold medals in the giant slalom and slalom in Calgary in 1988 and a favorite to win both events again at the Albertville Games this week. The great man roared up to the medalists on a snowmobile, cm-braced them both and cried "Bravi!" Tomba gazed at the gold medal Polig was wearing but superstitiously refrained from touching it, because, he explained, that might cause sfiga—literally, "disfigurement"—in his races this week.
Sfiga seemed to be working its nasty ways in the men's Super G, where the local hero, Franck Piccard of the Savoie, who won the gold in the event in Calgary four years ago, came a cropper in astonishingly short order. Just last week Piccard had touched off a national celebration when he burst out of a 23rd-position start in the men's downhill—the centerpiece Alpine event—and sped down a mean, chewed-up course to finish second. Now, in the Super G, he burst forth again, but seven gates into his run, while gliding over a sunny and relatively flat section of the course, poor Piccard simply eased onto the edge of the wrong ski and fell, almost casually, on his side.
Starting third, Norway's Kjetil Andre Aamodt, a child of 20 who is in his third year of World Cup competition, put up a time of 1:13.04, and no one could top it. Starting fourth was Girardelli, the best all-around skier on earth but still without that Olympic medal. Back on form after falling in both the downhill and the combined downhill, he roared down the Super G course in 1:13.77 and got the silver. After the race Girardelli was asked if he felt am different now that he finally had an Olympic medal. "No," he replied deadpan, "it's exactly the same." He paused, then added, "I'm only joking. It's for sure a different feeling. Today was a victory for me even though I didn't win."
Only a win would be a victor)' for Austria's Petra Kronberger in the women's combined. Kronberger, 22, the overall World Cup winner for the past two years and the leader this year, is regarded as the finest and most versatile female skier alive. Her first task would be to conquer Méribel's downhill course, appropriately named Le Roc de Fer ("The Iron Rock"). Le Roc is a hard, dangerous run—"the women's Kitzbühel," said U.S. women's head coach Paul Major—and it took a heavy toll. Wendy Fisher of the U.S. and Austrian star downhiller Sabine Ginther had terrible falls in training for the combined downhill on a steep bump dubbed Noodles by the racers. Fisher suffered a broken thumb and leg injuries; Ginther fractured a disk in her back, ending her season and perhaps her career. During the race itself Noodles threw another American, Kristin Krone, into a terrifying spill. Fortunately Krone, who is nicknamed Crash, was unhurt.
Amid the combined downhill wreckage Kronberger skied a cool but daring run and finished first. In the next day's combined slalom she placed third, and the overall result easily gave her the gold. A pleasant surprise in the combined competition was provided by another unheralded American in her first Olympics, 21-year-old Krista Schmidinger, of Lee, Mass. She finished second, behind Kronberger, in the downhill portion of the event and raved about the daunting Roc: "I love this course!" Schmidinger finished 14th in the slalom and wound up 11th overall. Her good showing proved a harbinger for the U.S.