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Zone of Their Own
William Oscar Johnson
February 28, 1994
U.S. skiers, led by Diann Roffe-Steinrotter and unsung Tommy Moe, exceeded expectations by amassing five medals in the first 10 days of the Games
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February 28, 1994

Zone Of Their Own

U.S. skiers, led by Diann Roffe-Steinrotter and unsung Tommy Moe, exceeded expectations by amassing five medals in the first 10 days of the Games

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"I am in a zone right now where I almost can't stop myself from skiing fast."

Call it the Moe Zone. This remark was made last Thursday by Thomas Sven Moe, 24, the unsung Alaskan and winless World Cup ski racer turned Olympic hero, immediately after he had earned a silver medal in the men's Super G in Lillehammer and four days after he had stunned the skiing world by winning the gold in the downhill.

But be aware that the zone also worked miracles on a host of other U.S. skiers. Never before has there been such a rapid rush of medals by U.S. Olympic skiers. Over the first 10 days in Lillehammer, U.S. Alpine and freestyle skiers won five medals in seven events—and there were still seven events to go in the last week of the Games.

Besides Moe's gold and silver, the U.S. harvest included a gold in the women's Super G by Diann Roffe-Steinrotter of Potsdam, N.Y., a silver in the women's downhill by Picabo Street of Sun Valley, Idaho, and a silver in the freestyle moguls by Liz McIntyre of Winter Park, Colo., who stepped in to save the Americans' bacon after the heavy favorite, 1992 Olympic gold medalist Donna Weinbrecht of West Milford, N.J., fell to seventh place because, as her coach, Jeff Good, said, "she did not feel she was in her zone."

Later, Good explained the meaning of the term. "The zone is a state of mind," he said, "where your brain doesn't think of all the other things that your brain can think of. It's having tunnel vision. No distractions."

The heretofore unlucky Roffe-Steinrotter entered the Moe Zone on Feb. 15 for her run in the Super G—a race in which she had never placed better than fourth in World Cup competition. Her 11-year career on the U.S. team had been a strange, flawed thing. In 1985, as an ingenue of 17, she had won a gold medal in the giant slalom in the World Championships in Bormio, Italy, to become the second-youngest skier—by four days—ever to win a world or Olympic title.

Between the golds in Bormio and Lillehammer lay another universe. "I can't connect the two events at all," she says. "There is too much history in between. All my values have changed. Now I know the consequence of injuries, of winning, of losing, of experience. I know all about the big Catch-22 of ski racing—that hurting myself can have terrible consequences, but that if I don't risk hurting myself, I won't have any chance of winning. I didn't know any of that then. I was like a gymnast who's 10 years old and then her body changes. I was 5'2", 105 pounds. Now I'm 5'4", 134.1 bear no resemblance physically, mentally or emotionally to that person."

Roffe-Steinrotter had won one World Cup race in 1985, after Bormio, but had not reached the World Cup victory stand since. That long dry spell was largely the result of season-killing knee injuries she suffered in '86 and '91. Then, in '92, with a gritty performance in the giant slalom at the Albertville Olympics, she came out of ninth place after the first run to get the silver. That medal might have offered a graceful path to retirement. In '91 she had married Willi Steinrotter, who coaches soccer and ski racing at Clarkson University in Potsdam and had known Diann since they were both children. His father ran the Brantling Ski Slopes near Rochester, N.Y., where Diann had begun skiing at two. But she would not quit.

"I didn't want to cop out on my own potential," she says. Yet her post-Albertville results were mediocre, and this season Steinrotter took a leave of absence to travel with her. Having a spouse or sweetheart accompany ski racers during a grueling World Cup season is frowned on by most coaches, but Paul Major, the U.S. Alpine director and women's coach, had no qualms about Diann and Willi's plans. "When she told me, I have to have Willi with me,' I said yes on the spot," says Major. "I'm not in the business of destroying marriages just to protect our team status. Besides, Willi worked harder for us than anyone, the first on the hill in the morning, the last off at night. He was like an extra assistant coach, a very positive force for the team."

And for Diann in particular. "I tried to keep her from losing faith after she had a bad race," says Willi, "and there were a good lot of them."

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