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Austrian Kisses Downhill Drought Goodbye


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February 15, 2006

SAN SICARIO, Italy (AP by Erica Bulman)—Michaela Dorfmeister tossed and turned all night. A race clock ticked relentlessly in her head. The Olympics Rings dominated her dreams. Sweat soaked her sheets.

Then the veteran Austrian speedster got up out of bed, got up the mountain _ and ended the quest for an Olympic gold medal that had kept her skiing.

Dorfmeister devoured the soft and windy women’s downhill course Wednesday in 1 minute, 56.49 seconds _ then waited apprehensively as the rest of the favorites finished.

Holding her hands in prayer, anxiously jiggling her knees, she hoped to exorcise her hundredth-of-a-second super-G loss to good buddy Picabo Street at the 1998 Nagano Games.

She won silver, but it wasn’t enough.

“That elusive medal was probably the thing that kept me skiing, Dorfmeister said. “I didn’t sleep for two nights because I kept thinking about it.

Dorfmeister watched from the bottom of the mountain as skier after skier failed to match her time.

In the end, it was unheralded Swiss Martina Schild _ granddaughter of 1948 Olympic downhill champion Hedy Schlunegger _ who came the closest, crossing 0.37 behind Dorfmeister.[pagebreak]”The Olympic games are for surprises and this time it was me who surprised, said Schild, who had only one top 10 finish and no medals on the World Cup circuit this season.

Anja Paerson of Sweden was overjoyed with taking the bronze, her first Olympic medal in a speed event after medaling in the slalom and giant slalom four years ago in Salt Lake City.

Despite Austria’s dominance in ski racing, Dorfmeister, who is retiring at the end of this World Cup season, was the nation’s first woman to win the Olympic women’s downhill since Annemarie Moser-Proell won at the 1980 Lake Placid Games.

She had collected world championship gold, two dozen World Cup victories and the prestigious overall World Cup title _ but never Olympic gold.

She felt the pressure, even had to quaff a beer each night to help her sleep.

“Last night I woke up several times, and even in the dark all I could see were the rings, Dorfmeister said. “I became obsessed with them.

Somehow, she woke up relaxed.

“It would be arrogant to say I knew I was going to win, said Dorfmeister, who sobbed after her victory and struggled to keep from crying during the medal ceremony. “But if I was full of doubts before, today I had no doubts. I had the voices of a thousand little gnomes in my head telling me this would be my day.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press