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WINTER OLYMPICS : Women's Luge : Bonny Warner May Be in Eighth Place, but She Is Relaxed

February 17, 1988|THOMAS BONK | Times Staff Writer

CALGARY, Canada — Bonny Warner is relaxed. That's good. She is in eighth place. That's bad, but Warner said that's good.

The wind at the luge track Tuesday was bad and that certainly wasn't good.

The U.S. women's team couldn't find its van in the parking lot for a while before coming to the track, which could have been bad.

Warner said a very good East German team is tense and that's pretty hard to believe.

"Everybody is a lot more tense than me," Warner said. "Seeing them tense makes me more relaxed. Even the East Germans are tense."

Someone is going to win the gold medal in women's luge today in the final two runs and unless all of them fall off their sleds, it's going to be an East German.

Ute Oberhoffer, Steffi Walter and Cerstin Schmidt of East Germany are 1-2-3 after Tuesday's first two luge runs at Canada Olympic Park, where the East Germans ignored gusty winds and followed a fast track to what could be a medal sweep.

As expected, the East German team was dominant. But their fastest split time was how long it took them to avoid the media. They quickly loaded their sleds on trucks after their races, climbed aboard and sped away.

When the East Germans were on the track, they were almost as fast. Veronika Bilgeri of West Germany is the nearest challenger to Schmidt's hold on third place, but she is not very close. Schmidt has a lead of nearly six-tenths of a second over Bilgeri.

Three more sliders separate Warner from Bilgeri and that's probably too many people and too much time for her to make up.

Warner raced with the friction-reducing Riblet tape stuck to the bottom of her sled pod. Team manager Mary Ellen Fletcher said that's not too unusual because Warner is willing to try anything to get some kind of advantage.

Fletcher said Warner thought the tape seemed like a good idea.

"If she could, she would have put it behind her ears," Fletcher said.

A medal may not be possible for Warner, but she still thinks she can improve her position today.

"Fourth is definitely a possibility of my own means," she said. "That's what I'm really shooting for. I have to depend on the East Germans to make a mistake for anything else."

Cammy Myler of the United States is in ninth place and teammate Erica Terwilligar is 12th.

Terwilligar's sled bounced off a wall on her second run, but she wasn't sure how many times it happened.

"Two, three times, I lost count after a while," Terwilligar said. She had been counting on a finish in the top seven.

Fletcher said the best the United States could have hoped for was to put its three sliders in the top 10, but a more realistic goal now is to beat the previous best American women's finish of 12th place in the Olympics.

Warner was pleased with both of her runs, and the second would have been better if she hadn't brushed a wall when a crosswind struck her sled just before she entered the last of the 14 turns on the track.

Windy conditions forced Warner to lift her head just enough to cost her a little bit of time.

"Keep your head up and you slow down a little bit," she said. "Hit a wall and it really slows you down. But if the wind is blowing, you've got to watch where you're going."

So there seems to be some kind of poetic justice going on in the luge.

The East Germans have the best sliders in the world, so they're beating everybody else. Warner told all who listened long before the Olympics started that this is what would happen.

"I was only an outside chance for a medal coming in, but I was looking to finish fourth," Warner said. "People I talked to know I told them I wasn't a medal favorite. I told them the East Germans are going to sweep it."

The United States has traveled a long way to become competitive in women's luge, almost as far as Warner, who at one time was down to her last bowl of chili.

When she first began her luge training in 1980, Warner lived in the U.S. team offices in Lake Placid, N.Y., because she didn't have any money to pay rent. Warner even bounced an 89-cent check she wrote to a Lake Placid deli to pay for a bowl of chili.

Now, it may be that the U.S. team's fortunes are improving.

"When the East Germans started, they learned from gold medalists," Warner said. "I learned from 20th-place finishers. I put my heart and soul into this sport. Whether I finish fourth or sixth or last, at least I love what I'm doing."

And that, Warner said, is good enough for her.

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