Other racers were more brutal. Marc Girardelli, 29, the Luxembourg legend who competed in his first world championships in 1985, said the Shizukuishi downhill course was for "development racers and restaurant workers." He refused to enter the race.
There was room for mistakes on this course, and Kitt's run was not flawless. From the 11th start position, he started slowly but set the fastest and second-fastest times on the lower portions of the course en route to his medal. Lehmann, wearing a pair of lucky yellow socks he won't compete without, came from the 20th position to save Switzerland's ski-racing face by winning the gold. No other Swiss, male or female, got a medal.
Finishing second in the men's downhill was Atle Skaardal, 27, one of the horde of Norsemen who laid waste the slopes of Shizukuishi and sent a clear warning that they are ready to do similar damage to their own hills during next year's Olympics in Lillehammer. Indeed, the Norwegian men's team could easily win all five Olympic Alpine gold medals. One man alone could win four of them. The precocious Aamodt is closing in on the title of Greatest Skier on Earth, and his performance at Shizukuishi was astounding. He got gold in the slalom, gold in the giant slalom and silver in the combined. He did not enter the downhill, and the Super G, an event he won at Albertville, was canceled on Sunday because of the blasts from Siberia.
Aamodt possesses the agility of an acrobat, and he has a delicate touch on his skis; he needs no yellow socks to win. When someone asked him if luck played an important part in his success, he said with a wry smile, "No, our competition is made up of very small margins, and it is not luck or unluck that decides who wins. If you succeed in a race while wearing a certain pair of undertrousers one day, and then you wear the same undertrousers day after day, you may still succeed, but it will not be because of the undertrousers."
Aamodt was not unhappy with his silver in the combined, because his teammate and pal, Lasse Kjus, 22, won the gold. The two have seemed as inseparable as twins since they stunned the ski world three years ago by claiming 10 of the 15 medals at the 1990 junior world championships in Zinal, Switzerland. They are known as the Dream Team among their mates because of their drifty, absent-minded behavior. Aamodt agrees they deserve the moniker. "Sometimes we forget to put on boots when it is raining," he said. "We forget hotel keys sometimes. We used to put our luggage and skis next to the car and drive off. But we have improved. Now we put the skis on the car and drive off. We never forget our heads or our skis anymore."
No one was more driven to succeed in Japan than Pace. She has negotiated a minefield of injuries: In 1989 she underwent reconstructive surgery on her right knee, and in December 1991 she broke her right ankle. As a result she missed the better part of two seasons and the Albertville Games. In all the downtime, Pace became extraordinarily focused on the Shizukuishi downhill. When she trained on her bicycle last summer near her home in North Bay, Ont., she kept a strip of tape on her handlebars with the slogan: GOLD IN MORIOKA!
Pace was in unusually good shape this season, but at a race in Haus, Austria, on Jan. 22 she fell and broke her wrist. "Gold in Morioka!" suddenly seemed an impossible goal, but Pace didn't give up. She got a doctor in Munich to design a special cast for her that left her hand free to hold a ski pole. The wrist hurt terribly whenever the pole touched the snow, so she had the pole cut short. Two weeks ago she began practicing the all-important lunge out of the start gate using only one arm to push herself.
It worked. Starting 17th, Pace attacked the course as if she were a healthy two-armed skier, and when she crossed the line, she had written a new chapter in Canada's illustrious history of downhill racing. Another major character in that tale was in the finish area, watching with tears in her eyes as Pace charged home. Kerrin Lee-Gartner, who overcame a similar plague of injuries to win the '92 Olympic downhill and finished ninth on this day, said to Pace, "Thank you. It brings back all the memories."
Such moments of drama were sorely needed in Japan, for the onslaught from Siberia seemed interminable. But one by one—and often two by two, with all the doubling up of races—the championships moved toward completion. In the end no race was held on its scheduled day, but all were run except the men's Super G. And several established World Cup stars burnished their reputations. Katja Seizinger of Germany won the Super G, and Carole Merle of France won the women's giant slalom. Girardelli took home his ninth (bronze in the combined) and 10th (silver in the slalom) world-championship medals.
One star, however, didn't shine. Italy's Alberto Tomba, 26, was bedridden with the flu until midway through the second week, when he appeared weak-voiced and hollow-eyed to preside over a packed press conference. He spoke fatalistically: "It was something or someone far stronger than I that has made this sickness happen." He then declared that something or someone notwithstanding, he planned to enter the slalom, even though he doubted he could perform at more than 80% of his capacity. As it turned out, he straddled a gate about halfway down the first run, which meant he had delivered no more than 25% of the capacity required to win the race. Tomba has three Olympic gold medals and 29 World Cup victories, but he has only a single bronze medal in four world championships—and he got that back in 1987.