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WINTER OLYMPICS : Women's Combined Downhill : Austria's Wachter Is Too Much for 2 Swiss

February 22, 1988|BOB LOCHNER | Times Assistant Sports Editor

CALGARY, Canada — Anita Wachter, who supposedly had an attitude problem for her first three years on Austria's ski team, got serious Sunday and won an Olympic gold medal.

In the process, she beat two Swiss women, and how sweet can it get?

Wachter, 21, placed second in the slalom half of the combined, after finishing third in the downhill portion the previous day, and wound up with 29.25 points, a scant .23 ahead of Switzerland's Brigitte Oertli under a scoring system in which the lowest total wins.

Oertli gave her country its second silver medal--she was also second in the regular women's downhill--and teammate Maria Walliser contributed a bronze, edging Canadian Karen Percy by 3.19 points.

But after two of the five women's events here, the Swiss are without any gold, which is quite a comedown from the World Alpine Championships last year, when they swept all five of the women's gold medals on their home slopes at Crans-Montana.

Said Walliser: "We knew there could be a big change this year. The Austrians have been skiing very well, and there are other good teams, too. We've had a lot of good luck. Now, someone else is having it."

Oertli needed just a bit more luck Sunday. She had been 11th in the downhill and won both runs of the slalom with a total time of 1:20.71, but it was just a few hundredths of a second too slow.

Wachter was 2.28 seconds behind Oertli in the slalom, but that was close enough to keep her in first place overall.

The rap against Wachter has been that she doesn't take racing seriously enough to devote her full time and attention to it. This she denies, saying: "Perhaps, I just concentrate more on skiing than the other girls when I am doing it."

Nevertheless, the fact remains that she didn't win a race until her fourth season on the World Cup circuit, after an outstanding junior career. The victory came in a slalom at Courmayeur, Italy, last Nov. 30.

"I have always considered myself a better slalom skier than downhill skier, so I felt very good when I did so well in the combined downhill here," she said. "It made me less nervous today in the slalom."

Wachter actually spent most of the preseason training period with Austria's downhillers, and she said: "This gave me a good feeling for speed, which has also helped in my slalom."

Perhaps her most notable achievement was a fifth place in the combined at the 1987 World Alpine Championships, coming as it did just two weeks after a downhill crash in which she suffered a broken shoulder, injuries to vertebrae and a concussion.

"I wanted to race in the downhill at Crans-Montana immediately after the accident so I could overcome my fear," she said.

Canada's Percy, meanwhile, came within a couple of dropped poles of her second bronze medal Sunday. She didn't actually drop them in the snow, but on her second run, first the right, then the left pole slipped out of her hands. The safety straps kept her from losing them, but the incidents cost her valuable time as she had to fumble with them.

Contributing to the problem was her left thumb that is still sore from being broken earlier this winter.

Percy, the bronze medalist in the women's regular downhill, still managed to finish third in the slalom after being ninth in the combined downhill. But Walliser, with her second Saturday and 11th Sunday, outpointed her.

France's Carole Merle, who placed first, just ahead of Walliser, in the combined downhill, missed a gate in the first run of the slalom and was disqualified.

Beth Madsen, the highest-placing U.S. skier, was 15th in the combined totals, adding a seventh in the slalom to her 28th in the downhill.

Today, the women will compete in the super-G, and the Swiss figure it's about time they go on the gold standard.

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