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Americans Preparing for Olympic Pressures


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St. Anton, Austria Feb. 4, 2001 (AP by Erica Bulman)–With the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City just a year away, the U.S. ski team is using the World Championships as a class in stress management.

The Americans are learning to handle the pressures of competing in a major international arena by observing the mighty Austrian squad, loaded down with the expectations and the strain of competing at home.

“You need to train, practice and prepare, you need to think how it will feel at the Olympic Games,” said Bill Egan, coach of the U.S. men’s team. “Right now in the program we’re working on how to deal with the pressure at the Olympics.”

Considered the final big test ahead of Salt Lake, these worlds are being used as a measuring rod. And so far, the Austrians have fallen disappointingly short, failing to win any of the three gold medals awarded.

The Americans, by contrast have surpassed expectations.

Daron Rahlves won the super-G gold ahead of Austria’s Stefan Eberharter, dropping home hero Hermann Maier to third in what is considered the Herminator’s strongest event. It was only the third time an American man had won a world championship gold.

In the women’s super-G, the Austrians failed to place among the top seven, while American Megan Gerety finished an impressive fourth.

The Austrians were again thwarted in the women’s combined when Renate Goetschl, poised to win, straddled a gate in the final slalom leg. Instead it was German Olympic silver medalist Martina Ertl who won, in a comeback from knee ligament surgery barely a month before.

“The Austrians have plenty of pressure,” Egan said. “They are trying to win. My feeling is that they are afraid to lose and when you are preoccupied with your result, your chances of losing are much greater.”

Something Egan and the rest of the U.S. staff are trying to teach their skiers.

“We preach all the time that it’s very important to be able to perform under pressure,” Egan said. “In my mind a great athlete doesn’t feel pressure, he’s so focused and prepared that he doesn’t allow any interference in the task at hand.

“It comes from practice. You have to be task-oriented and not goal-oriented in this case. The guys who can only concentrate on the outcome, they’re in trouble.”

While the American men have shown they can climb the podium, the women are still learning what it takes to go from being a great racer to a great competitor to a great winner.

Caroline Lalive surged to the forefront in unexpected fashion in the combined, sitting in a strong position to win before succumbing to nerves and veering off course in the final slalom run. Gerety would have climbed the podium in the super-G but for a mistake near the bottom of the course.

“We like to teach them that it’s a task-executing process, you don’t wish it or want it, you have to perform technically and tactically and the outcome will come later on,” said Marjan Cernigoj, the U.S. women’s coach. “Our women skiers are exceptionally good but they make mistakes.

“They’re good athletes, good skiers and then good competitors, now they need to get on the podium.” Bjt

Copyright (c) 2000 The Associated Press