Wild ones cheer Gumby, queen of moguls Weinbrecht claims 2nd U.S. gold medal


TIGNES, France -- So beach volleyball comes to the Winter Olympics.

And it's the only sporting event you're likely to watch while Sammy Hagar's voice echoes in the Alps.

And it's played out on a hill with all the charm of the New Jersey Turnpike.

But there were medals to be found in this can't-get-any-respect sport of the 1992 Winter Olympics.

Hey dude, the United States got two.

Yesterday, Donna Weinbrecht, 26, of West Milford, N.J., the official sure thing of the U.S. Olympic team, won the first gold medal awarded in the women's freestyle mogul skiing event.

Nelson Carmichael, 26, of Steamboat Springs, Colo., added a bronze in the men's competition, bringing the U.S. team total to three medals won in six days of competition.

That'll make Austria nervous.

The country that can't luge, can't bob, and can't ski cross country for medals, has finally found its niche in the television trash-sport of the Olympics.

What's next, tractor-pull on ice?

"The gold medal is the same as anyone's," Weinbrecht said. "Otherwise, why would it be a medal event? I think this might draw more excitement to the sport. People will see it, and like it."

Actually, what's not to like about a sport that doesn't take itself so seriously, that lures the surfer-set to the mountains, that uses terms like "Buy Air, Banging Bumps, and Shredding the Narl," that plays generic rock 'n' roll music during the runs, and that produces the best scene of the 1992 Games: Two men turning a French flag into a toboggan on a wild ride down the mountain?

"It's for crazy guys, crazy girls," said France's Edgar Grospiron, the men's gold medalist. "The wild ones."

Ah yes, the wild ones. There was the crowd of 5,000 that turned out in the midst of a blizzard to line a hill and provide the loudest roars of the Games. There was Grospiron and Olivier Allamand finishing 1-2 for France. There was Stine Hattestad of Norway getting the women's bronze and Elizaveta Kojevnikova of the Unified Team getting the silver.

Think about that: a Russian rocking and rolling down a mountain.

And of course, there was Weinbrecht, the be-goggled blond-haired Gumby on Skis who was crowned queen of the snow bumps.

She descended the 250-meter, 28-degree angled mogul freestyle ski hill, following a path dyed royal blue and pot-roast dTC brown. She became America's second gold medalist of the Games, joining speed skater Bonnie Blair.

"I haven't met Bonnie," Weinbrecht said. "She's an extraordinary lady. I wish her the best. I did want to bring the gold home to the U.S."

For a year, Weinbrecht has been the acknowledged front-runner in a sport that achieved full-medal status for these Games. The one-time art student, the woman whose parents feared was becoming a ski bum, wound up an Olympic champion.

"The pressure was there," Weinbrecht said. "I couldn't fool myself. A lot of questions were coming into my head. I was expected to win."

Weinbrecht was only fourth fastest in the field of eight. But this is a sport with judges. A panel of seven rates the racers for skiing time, turning ability and jumping creativity.

Weinbrecht was nervous. Real nervous. In Wednesday's preliminaries she finished second behind France's Raphaelle Monod.

"I was crying all night," Weinbrecht said. "Crying with my coaches, my parents. With everybody."

But yesterday, she was calm and confident.

"My thoughts were on the kids from my hometown in New Jersey who wrote me letters at Christmas," she said. "I wanted to be brave, to be here, right here and now, and not somewhere else. I wanted to be in the gate. To be ready to go."

The Ramones' "Rock 'n' Roll High School" played over the loudspeaker. (Sure beat the Olympic Anthem.) And Weinbrecht raced, absorbing every shock the moguls could provide, even throwing in a split jump and another twist and split leap. She made it to the bottom with only one hitch, hitting one last speed bump like a breakaway Harley. After crossing the finish, she raised her skis in the air (yes, these people do get endorsements), and then waited. . . .

For Monod.

The crowd screamed. The French heroine took off. And fell.

Weinbrecht smiled. A teammate draped an American flag over her shoulders. Weinbrecht's family and friends, a group of 100 flag-waving, air-horn blowing, poster-toting, lung-roaring party animals, made just a little more noise.

Thank goodness the avalanche nets were up.

"My family has been celebrating all week," Weinbrecht said. "I almost tried to avoid them. They were just happy. I knew whatever I did, they would be happy. But I wanted this for myself. They didn't realize I had to focus and not party."

But after the victory, Weinbrecht was ready to join the celebration.

I= "I won't go wild," she said. "I'll sit there in Nirvana."

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