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Winter Olympics: Calgary : U.S. Hopes: It's All Downhill From Here : Nordic Team Will Be Happy to Just Come Close

February 11, 1988|BOB LOCHNER | Times Assistant Sports Editor

PARK CITY, Utah — The cameras at the Canmore Nordic Center near Calgary will be focused mainly on Swedes, Norwegians, Finns and Soviets competing for medals, and that's only natural. These people have lived much of their lives on skis.

But a wiry lady from up around California's Mammoth Mountain will be trying to poke her icicled-nose into the picture for at least a few glimpses.

We're not talking medals here. Nancy Fiddler would consider a 20-something finish in one of the three women's cross-country races a major success. And Ruff Patterson, the man in charge of the U.S. cross-country ski team, gets most excited about the prospects of a possible fifth place by the women's relay team, which includes Fiddler.

Two years ago, even these modest goals probably would have seemed far-fetched to Fiddler. The Olympics? Come on, she hadn't even raced in six years.

"I didn't make the team at the Olympic trials for Lake Placid in 1980, so I gave it up," Fiddler said the other day between training sessions at Jeremy Ranch.

At the time, as Nancy Ingersoll, she had just graduated from Bates College in Lewiston, Me., and had decided to go to California. "I'd heard it was a nice place," she said.

Fiddler taught both Alpine and Nordic skiing at Bear Valley in the winters and worked at the Tioga Pass Resort, just outside Yosemite, in the summers. It was at the resort that she met Claude Fiddler, and they've been married for more than six years. He's a full-time member of the Mammoth Ski Patrol but will take time off to go to Calgary.

"Claude and I both have a sense of adventure," Fiddler said. "We do a lot of mountain-climbing together in the Sierra and stay in shape year-round. Heck, you can work when you're old. Go for it while you can."

It was that attitude that led Fiddler back to cross-country ski racing.

"I entered a couple of Far West regional races and won," she said. "So, people were telling me I should go to the national championships in 1986 at Royal Gorge, in Northern California.

"Then, surprise, I won the 10-kilometer, finished second in the 5K and seventh in the 20K."

Fiddler had just turned 30.

"Since then, I've been on a more formal training program as part of the team, and it has really helped my skiing," she said. "The main difference I've noticed between now and when I was younger is that the recovery time is longer after a race. And I can't party the night before."

In last month's Olympic trials at Biwabik, Minn., Fiddler won the 10K classic race, was second to Leslie Thompson of Stowe, Vt., in both the 5K classic and 5K freestyle, and third to Thompson in the 20K freestyle.

Thompson, who was third in the 10K, is nearly seven years younger than Fiddler, but the two have a close bond.

"It's great to have someone to share the training routine with," Fiddler said. "Even when Leslie is in Vermont and I'm in California, I know what she's going through at almost the same time, or maybe three hours earlier.

Another thing they share is a tight economy. "We earn a little money from suppliers," said Fiddler, who has her house at Bear Valley on the market. "But it doesn't even pay expenses."

Thompson said: "I probably do a little better than break even, but it doesn't get me through the summer."

Partly because of the Nordic team's limited budget, there were no U.S. cross-country skiers on the World Cup circuit the last two months.

Last winter, Fiddler and Thompson both competed in the 1987 World Championships at Oberstdorf, West Germany, where Nancy was 26th and Leslie 33rd in the 5K classic race against many of the same racers who will be at Calgary.

At Oberstdorf, the U.S. team enjoyed one of its brightest--and as it later turned out, one of its darkest--moments in Nordic skiing history.

Kerry Lynch won a silver medal in the Nordic combined--a 15-kilometer cross-country race and a 70-meter jump--causing great joy among the American skiers. Last fall, however, it leaked out that Lynch had been guilty of the forbidden practice of "blood doping," and he was banned from the Olympics.

"I was blown away when I heard about it," Fiddler said. "When Kerry won, we all said, 'Yahoo!' Then, it was a real letdown. We were all hurt by it. Now, if we do well, everyone will assume we're doing it, too.

"But there's no way I'd even consider it."

According to Fiddler, it's impossible to know for sure, but she suspects that there may be some women practicing blood-doping, which involves extracting blood about a month before a major race, eliminating the plasma and freezing the red cells, which are then reinjected three or four days before the race. It enables the athlete to carry more oxygen and obtain a competitive edge in an aerobic sport.

Patterson, the technical services manager who is acting director of the U.S. cross-country ski team, goes even further than Fiddler and calls blood-doping "a major problem, especially in the combined." But he added: "There is no test for it. You're penalized only if you get caught or come forward.

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