Madarao, Japan, Jan. 30--Ten weeks ago, Shannon Bahrke (Tahoe City,CA) didn't know if she'd be skiing this season-or if she'd be alive. ButBahrke, who skied to the best result of her young World Cup career ayear ago in Madarao when she was second in dual moguls, responded to thecheering thousands again Sunday and was second again - this time insingles.
"It was awesome," Bahrke said. "My first run was good but I didn'tthink it was good enough to get me into finals; the judges were reallyhard. I was seventh or eighth, though, and when finals came along i gaveit everything."
Clicking with a heli off her first jump and a twister spread off thebottom "air," Bahrke finished with 24.49 points; she was a disappointedtied-for-ninth Saturday in duals. Germany's Sandra Schmitt swept bothends of the moguls weekend, taking the duals Saturday and earning 25.25Sunday for her third win of the season. Defending World Cup mogulschampion Ann Battelle (Steamboat Springs, CO) was sixth - and continuesto lead the World Cup points after five contests - with Justine VanHoute (Telluride, CO) ninth.
Sami Mustonen - Olympic bronze medalist in 1998 and again last seasonat the '99 World Championships - earned the first win of his career. Hehad 25.80 points with Canadian newcomer Jay Vaughn second at 25.48. TopAmerican was Alex Wilson (Buffalo, NY) in sixth; Ryan Riley (SteamboatSprings, CO) was 10th and Evan Dybvig (Tunbridge, VT) 11th.
"The conditions were really good. The course was totally rippable,"Bahrke said. "Last year in Madarao was great but I had somefrustrations Saturday, so today it was like 'Oh, my gosh. What am Igonna do?' I didn't want to be ninth again. But this crowd really getsyou. They're crazy; they love it!"
During the fall, Bahrke was felled by a staph infection and was onantibiotics for a month and a half. She lost weight but successfullybattled through the ailment; doctors were unable to identify how she gotit - "maybe it was when I was traveling cross-country," she said - butthey came up with the right solution to her problem.
"It was pretty scary. I had flu symptoms but I didn't know if I'd beable to ski. There were a lot of 'didn't knows' because I was onantibiotics 24 hours a day for six weeks. I lost a lot of weight, lostsome strength...yeah, it was scary."
But slowly Bahrke has regained her strength and her skiing. She wasfifth Jan. 8 in the Gateway Millennium Freestyle Challenge at DeerValley; on the 22nd she was ninth before her hometown fans at the SprintU.S. Freestyle Grand National at Heavenly...and Sunday she sparkled.
"We're all just so thankful Shannon's back," U.S. moguls Head Coach DonSt. Pierre said, "and then to see her skiing so well is a bonus. Thatwas life-threatening; she was very sick. Shannon's such a warrior; shedoesn't back down and it's always good to see that ethic, that attitudebe rewarded."
Wilson, who survived a "monster air" - going farther than he expectedbut landing it, anyway, when conditions changed and the course gotfaster than expected, echoed his teammate in praising the moguls-happycrowd which St. Pierre estimated at perhaps 4,000. "I was a little luckyto be able to ski away. I went pretty large - another five or six feetbeyond his expected landing point, well, at least three of four - andthat can be dangerous," Wilson said. "A lot of people messed up, butthis crowd was great. It gets to you."
St. Pierre and Coach Liz McIntyre were happy with a half-dozen skiersin finals, but - except for Bahrke - said they were disappointed no onedid better. "We're consistently putting 'em into finals," McIntyre said,"but we've got to 'close the deal.' It was great, though to see Shannonput one down; she has such a great attitude."
Lauri Lassila of Finland, silver medalist at the '99 Worlds, was takenoff the mountain strapped to a board with his neck in a brace after hecrashed in finals; there was no immediate word on his condition. Hisaccident caused about a half-hour delayy in the contest, during whichtime conditions changed quite a bit, according to St. Pierre, and Rileywas the next skier down the run. "What a pressure cooker for anyone tobe in; I'm sure it'll payoff for Ryan down the road but I don't think hesees it that way right now," St. Pierre said.
The bumps skiers have the week off before the schedule resumes Saturdaywith another moguls event in Inawashiro, and then it's back to the USAfor the inaugural Goodwill Games Feb. 16-20 in Lake Placid with dailyand nightly television coverage on TNT.