- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2006

SAN SICARIO, Italy — Michaela Dorfmeister waited eight years to erase one one-hundredth of a second. Lindsey Kildow waited all of 48 hours to race past her frightening fall.

Bookending the women’s Olympic downhill yesterday, the ready-to-retire Dorfmeister finally discarded the disappointment of a near-miss by winning her first Winter Games gold. And the up-and-coming Kildow showed serious guts simply by skiing at all.

“I wanted to get a medal,” said Kildow, who tied for eighth, “but I still have more chances — so don’t give up on me yet.”

Who would at this point?

After all, the mere idea of Kildow hurtling down a mountain again at 50 mph within the next few months, let alone at these Olympics, seemed far-fetched to anyone who saw her body-battering crash in Monday’s practice on the same hill. Or to the doctor who saw her bruised thigh, aching back and sore pelvis and cautioned that she wouldn’t be able to move, much less ski.

As the 21-year-old American put it: “It’s definitely weird going from the hospital bed to the start gate.”

Yet there she was, setting out on a smooth if slightly tentative run, despite feeling plenty of pain and being “maybe about 70 percent” fit.

Cloud cover made visibility tough, yet Kildow was well aware of where she had lost control, done an awkward leg split and flown 15 feet before slamming to earth.

“I was a little nervous. I’m not going to lie,” Kildow said. “I was definitely out of my tuck and just making it past that point, and then once I got past that point, I was pretty relieved.”

Dorfmeister demonstrated a different sort of perseverance.

A month shy of 33, the Austrian plans to quit the World Cup circuit after the season and primarily stuck around for one last shot at Olympic gold — “that elusive medal,” as she called it.

At the 1998 Nagano Games, she came as close as possible to winning the super-G without actually doing so: Picabo Street of the United States wound up 0.01 seconds ahead, and Dorfmeister settled for silver.

She had fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place finishes at Salt Lake City four years later, and so, for all of her 24 World Cup victories and two world championships, one thing was missing: a chance to climb to the top spot on an Olympic podium.

When that opportunity finally came, she kissed the podium. And as her national anthem played, she couldn’t hide her emotion, although she tried, holding a bouquet of flowers over her tear-reddened eyes.

“I really enjoyed that moment,” Dorfmeister said. “I didn’t sleep for two nights, because I was under so much pressure. But this morning I felt very relaxed, and when I took the lift to the start, I said, ‘Today, I’ll do it.’ ”

She finished in 1 minute, 56.49 seconds on a nearly two-mile course that’s by far the longest the women ski this season. It features tough terrain and steep turns banked like a racing oval and was made tougher after it was deemed too easy by Kildow and others last year.

Martina Schild of Switzerland won the silver, 0.37 behind, while two-time World Cup overall champion Anja Paerson of Sweden was third, 0.64 back.

The top U.S. finisher was No. 7 Julia Mancuso, while defending Olympic champion Carole Montillet-Carles of France was No. 28 but impressed merely by competing. Like Kildow, she took a nasty spill Monday.

“I couldn’t have stayed in my room and watched it on the television,” said Montillet-Carles, who had trouble pulling on a helmet over her bruised, swollen face.

Kildow, who said she won’t watch a replay of her crash until after the Olympics, also needed to ski. She even tried to grab her things and sneak out of her hospital room when the checkout process was taking longer than she could stand.

If her body was hurting, her mind was ready to race, although she didn’t make a final decision until skiing an inspection run yesterday morning.

“It would have been dangerous for me to ski today without confidence, but I believed in myself,” Kildow said, “and I think that’s a lot of the reason why I pushed myself into going.”

Confidence, of course, is necessary in a sport in which danger and injuries come with the territory.

“I honestly thought right now I’d be in the U.S. dealing with surgery for her. Before I went to the hospital, I kind of put my things together like I’d be going home,” said her boyfriend, former U.S. Olympic skier Thomas Vonn.

“I’m totally amazed.”

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