- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2006

TURIN, Italy — As Samantha Retrosi’s limp body skittered across the ice, her face pressed against the frozen surface, silence fell over the high-speed luge track atop the sleepy Alpine village of Cesana.

In San Sicario, Lindsey Kildow popped into the air at 50 mph, out of control, limbs flailing and poles flying, until she slammed back to earth 15 feet away, her head snapping back on the icy snow of the downhill course.

Kildow, a gold-medal hopeful for the U.S. team, was one of four skiers who crashed yesterday on a slick Fraiteve Olympique course built mostly with water-soaked artificial snow.

Kildow suffered a badly bruised hip and was airlifted to a Turin hospital. She wasn’t, however, willing to rule out competing at these Olympics — as soon as today.

Retrosi wasn’t the only luger to wipe out at 80 mph on the lightning-fast track: Anastasia Oberstolz-Antonova of Italy, Czech slider Marketa Jeriova and medal hopeful Natalia Yakushenko of Ukraine also crashed on the first day of competition.

“It was a bad crash. … But the bottom line is that she’s going to be OK,” U.S. team leader Fred Zimny said of Retrosi.

The misfortune of Retrosi and Kildow was another blow to the country’s Olympic contingent, following figure skater Michelle Kwan’s withdrawal and disappointing starts for men’s skiing stars Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves and short-track skater Apolo Anton Ohno.

Competing in her first Winter Games, Retrosi, 20, of Saranac Lake, N.Y, sustained a concussion and cut her chin. She suffered short-term memory loss and is out of the Games, lucky to have escaped far more serious injuries. She was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Turin for observation and was expected to spend the night.

As she neared the bottom of the speedy course — redesigned last year because of safety concerns — Retrosi smacked the wall, flipped her 50-pound sled and appeared to be unconscious as she slid facedown with her right arm twisted awkwardly to her side.

When she finally stopped, fans standing alongside the retaining wall in turn 18 waved their arms for medical personnel to hurry down the slope.

Two large plastic screens, used to shade the track from the sun, were pulled down to shield Retrosi as family members rushed to the scene. Her grandfather, Don LaBarge, wiped away tears as his granddaughter was loaded into an ambulance, accompanied by her mother.

“She doesn’t remember the crash, which is probably a good thing,” Zimny said.

American Erin Hamlin, 19, was lucky, too. She nearly crashed on each of her runs, but managed to finish. She said seeing Oberstolz-Antonova unable to navigate her home course was somewhat startling.

The lightning-fast track, built for the Turin Games, was reconfigured in 2005 for safety reasons. Test events were canceled after a Brazilian sustained a serious head injury and a Romanian broke an arm.

In practice Sunday, Anne Abernathy, the 52-year-old slider nicknamed “Grandma Luge,” broke her right wrist in a crash and had to pull out of her sixth Olympics.

On the down hill course, defending Olympic champion Carole Montillet-Carles of France smacked into protective fencing when she failed to navigate the route’s biggest jump and had rib, back and facial injuries. She likely will not race tomorrow.

Canadian Allison Forsyth tore knee ligaments, and her Olympics are over. Elisabeth Goergl of Austria also fell but was able to ski to the bottom of the hill.

“It’s the Olympics — people are trying to take more chances,” Canadian Emily Brydon said. “It is so rolly up there, you have to be on it all the time. If you relax for a bit, it will catch you.”

After World Cup events on this hill last season, a chorus of racers complained the terrain lacked variety, so Olympics organizers altered the landscape and added jumps and bumps — changes that drew praises from Kildow and others after Sunday’s downhill training.

“It’s not an easy downhill, that’s for sure,” said reigning World Cup overall champion Anja Paerson of Sweden.

Kildow — a 21-year-old who moved from Minnesota to Vail about a decade ago — has been pegged as a superstar-in-the-making for years, thanks to her skills on the slopes and charisma off them. At 17, she had the best finish for a U.S. woman in Alpine skiing during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, finishing sixth in the combined.

Her true breakthrough was last season, with six top-three finishes in the World Cup and twice finishing one spot away from a medal at the 2005 Alpine World Championships.

Kildow won two World Cup downhills this season, ranks No. 2 on the circuit in that event and was second-fastest during Sunday’s training.

Things went wrong for Kildow when her left ski slid out as she came off a dip and began to turn around a gate on a rolling, relatively flat stretch on the course’s second half. Her right knee buckled and dragged on the ground while her left leg spread wide. One ski jutted into the surface like a skate blade and pushed her airborne.

After she landed backward and banged to a stop, medical workers rushed to her aid and she was taken to a helicopter.

“I’ve known Lindsey for about 10 years. She’s a pretty tough young lady. Almost nothing surprises me about her. Until we tell her she absolutely can’t race, she’s not going to rule it out,” said U.S. Alpine physician Bill Sterett, who treated her yesterday afternoon. “She’s pretty banged up and she’s pretty sore, but she’s in good spirits and doing pretty well.”

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