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WINTER OLYMPICS : Women's Luge : Sixth for Warner Is a First for the U.S.

February 19, 1988|MIKE KUPPER | Times Assistant Sports Editor

CALGARY, Canada — It wasn't medal time and it was much too early in the day to be that other M-word time, but it was happy hour for the United States women at the luge run just the same.

Bonny Warner, the one-time ski racer from Mount Baldy, had just finished sixth in the women's competition here Thursday.

Usually a sixth-place finish is nothing to get excited about, but in this case that finish represented the best a U.S. athlete, male or female, has ever done at the Olympics in the European sport of sled racing.

What's more, Cammy Myler of Lake Placid, N.Y., finished ninth, giving the United States two in the top 10, and Erica Terwillegar, also of Lake Placid, just missed, finishing 11th.

The day was being looked upon as a milestone for U.S. luging.

"I'm so excited! I'm ecstatic! This is just a steppingstone for 1992," gushed Warner, who was referring to the next Winter Games in Albertville, France.

"We're so much closer (to a medal) than we ever were before. (In 1992,) I certainly intend to be a medal favorite.

"This is great for the luge program in the States. Everybody knows what a luge is now. Even in Peoria."

Possibly true, but they still know it a whole lot better in Leipzig and other cities, towns and hamlets in East Germany. Repeating their 1984 sweep, East German women finished 1-2-3. Steffi Walter, who was Steffi Martin when she won at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, repeated as gold medalist.

Ute Oberhoffner won the silver medal, and Cerstin Schmidt the bronze.

Despite her previous success, Walter's victory was viewed as a bit of an upset, at least by her.

She took a season off from the sport to have a baby in 1986 and said that coming back had been a bit of a chore.

"It was not so easy to qualify for these Games," she said. "But I came to win my second gold. That was always my dream, and I planned very hard for this. It was always my dream to make two golds in a row."

Even Mary Ellen Fletcher, manager of the U.S. team, was mildly surprised at Walter's performance.

"I'm not amazed because she's so good, but I thought Ute was going to do it," she said. "But I'm happy for Steffi. She's everybody's favorite East German. She has a wonderful personality, and we all like to see her do well."

Fletcher was more than pleased, too, with her team's showing.

"We wanted three to be in the top 10, and we had hoped to be in the top five, but realistically we thought six or seven," she said. "We achieved our goal. We're very happy with Bonny's performance. She put it together at the start of her last run."

Warner agreed, and so did the score sheet, which showed that her fourth run was easily her best.

She had been in eighth place after the first two runs Tuesday, then moved up to seventh on her third run, first of the day, Thursday. That, she said, gave her the shot of confidence she needed for her last run.

"I was determined," she said. "I knew I had enough of a lead on the people behind me that I could go for it.

"I had a great start. The start-turn has been my nemesis at this track and I nailed it. When I nailed the start, I knew I had it.

"It was a happy run. It's almost as if the sled has little feelers and can feel when you're happy and it goes faster.

"It's like driving a Porsche 911 and knowing that you're not going to hit any trees and you're not going to get a ticket. It's an incredible rush."

So happy was Warner at the end of her final run that she leaped from her sled, vaulted a fence and joined some U.S. spectators, who had thrown her a bouquet of flowers, as if she were a figure skater.

Myler, who had been ninth going into the day's two runs and was unable to improve on that, had mixed emotions. Although she did better than she ever had previously, she didn't do as well as she had hoped.

"I'm fairly pleased," she said quietly. "I think I could have done better.

"I made a couple of mistakes on my runs today. I was slower on my starts than I was in training. I'm not exactly sure what happened.

"The start is always the key, but once it's done, you can't think about it. You can't make up that time, you just have to focus on the curves."

That is precisely what the U.S. women's team plans to do in the next four years.

"We have the grass-roots people to work on now," Warner said. "We'll be so much better in the future, even though we're good now."

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