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Tears of silver joy cap Roffe comeback U.S. medalist beats bad luck, injuries


MERIBEL, France -- She was down beyond the finish line talking to a couple of reporters, hiding behind sunglasses in the white afternoon light, tears falling gently down her cheeks. Behind her, in the distance, was the scoreboard showing the results of the women's Olympic giant slalom: Diann Roffe, co-silver medalist.

"I can't stop crying," she said, laughing and sniffing at the same time. "You know, considering all the stuff I went through, all the bad luck and the injuries, you start to wonder if anything can be worth it. But I just found out there is. A silver medal in the Olympics is worth it."

A 24-year-old from Potsdam, N.Y., who resurrected her career twice after serious knee injuries, she made the slalom run of her life yesterday in the second of the two heats that make up the event.

In ninth place after the first heat, she passed six skiers and tied another with a steady, graceful run down the course. Hers was the second-fastest time of any skier in the heat.

Sweden's Pernilla Wiberg won her country's first gold medal of these Games by the considerable margin of almost a full second. Roffe shared the silver with Austria's Anita Wachter. Because two silvers were awarded, there was no bronze.

Another American, Julie Parisien, finished fifth, and still another, Eva Twardokens, was seventh. Roffe was considered a less likely medalist than both, but passed them both on that second heat.

Her first heat was slow, she said, because she was too timid. She had fallen on the course during the women's super-G competition the day before, and yesterday "let that affect me too much." But then she gathered herself.

"I had nothing to lose on that run," Roffe said. "I thought I had given up too much time in the first heat. Coming from ninth, I just didn't think I could do it. My approach was just to take as many risks as possible out there. It worked out, and I'm very proud of it."

She also was properly proud of completing her comeback. She won the grand slalom World Championship in 1985, at age 17, and was proclaimed the next great American skier. But she has since had little else but trouble.

First, she slumped badly after winning her world championship.

"I got so much success so soon, and I didn't know how to appreciate it," she said. Then she tore up her knee hitting a gate in Germany in 1986 and disappeared from the world scene. She recovered enough to make the 1988 Olympic team, but wasn't a factor. Then she tore ligaments in the same knee on a downhill training run in December 1990.

"Sitting at home watching the world championships that year was just about the hardest thing I've ever done," she said.

She thought about retiring, but changed her mind and dived into her rehabilitation. She turned her Bermuda honeymoon into a workout, swimming to strengthen her knees and running over the sand of an old railroad track.

She got back out on the slopes again for training and finished third in the first World Cup event on the season, at which point she knew she was back. The giant slalom is her specialty, but she still was regarded as a long-shot coming into yesterday.

Her medal was the second for an American women's skier in these Games. Hilary Lindh also won a silver in the downhill. The best-ever U.S. Olympic showing by women's skiers was in 1960, when they won three medals. There is one event left in these Games, the slalom today.

With four skiers left in the competition yesterday, American skiers were ranked 1-2-3 on the scoreboard.

"I was kind of disappointed when I came down and saw my time, because I was pretty sure I was going to get knocked out of a medal," Parisien said, "but when I saw that 1-2-3, that was a rush. That's just about the best thing that's happened at the Olympics."

Said Roffe: "We have a strong team here. It shows that the federation and coaches and skiers are really getting things together. I think we've got a great foundation now. And it doesn't hurt to have a little luck sometimes, either."

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