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Moe: Uphill struggle, downhill victory LILLEHAMMER '94


KVITFJELL, Norway -- Tom Moe Sr. wanted to throw his gray wolf-skin coat into the finish area, wanted to show his son that he had made it from Alaska to the Winter Olympics via Dallas, Copenhagen and Oslo.

The old man had flown halfway around the world in 46 hours, his travel plans disrupted by a New York blizzard. Then he pushed ahead of 4,000 bundled Norwegians to hop a bus out of Lillehammer, running all the way from the parking lot, crawling through the stands filled with fans dancing to "Achy Breaky Heart," staking a place on the snow two minutes before the start of the biggest race in the Winter Olympics.

"I was turning so much, I dug a hole in that snow," the old man said.

Finally, the kid came down the course: Tommy Moe, hands down, body forward, flying at 60, 70, 80 mph over these bumps and dips on a two-mile run to greatness, the sound in the finish amphitheater building and building until the racer crossed the finish and the cheers turned to stone silence.

Tommy Moe, the American, had gone out and beaten the Europeans yesterday, winning the men's downhill gold medal.

The kid searched the crowd for the old man. Finally, they saw one another, a father and son, waving and smiling under a brilliant blue sky.

"We didn't need to say much," Tom Sr. said.

It was one of those moments that only an Olympics can produce. Tommy Moe, out of nowhere, out of Alaska, winning the gold.

And the father along for the ride.

Moe won a race in the blink of an eye, finishing in 1 minute, 45.75 seconds.

Kjetil Andre Aamodt, Norway's Alpine king, was runner-up, denied the gold by four-hundredths of a second. Canadian Edward Podivinsky gained the bronze.

Ten years after Bill Johnson raced down a course to win the Olympic downhill gold in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, America had produced another king of the men's downhill.

But Tommy Moe is no Bill Johnson, the swaggering cowboy who stole cars and talked of earning millions off one race.

"No," he said. "I don't steal any cars."

Sure, Tommy Moe has overcome personal problems, kicked off two ski teams as a teen-ager after experimenting with drugs and alcohol. He was raised in Montana, but after his parents divorced, and he got tossed off a team for the first time at 13, his father hauled him to Alaska.

"A lot of people know me as a drug user," Tommy Moe said. "It wasn't true. I was just experimenting, being a normal American kid."

Tom Sr., 53, took care of that. A former smoke jumper who leaped out of airplanes to snuff out forest fires, Tom Sr., runs a construction business in Alaska. When his son was dumped by the U.S. national program for too much partying as a 16-year-old, he put him to work one summer constructing steel buildings in the Aleutians.

"Dutch Harbor -- right close to hell," Tom Sr., said.

"It's cold," he said. "It's flat. It's windy. It snows in the summer. You don't want to be there."

Tommy Moe got the message, straightened his life, and got back on the ski tour.

He took a dip at the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France, with a poor performance, skiing away from his father in tears.

"He was running a lot on natural ability and he ran out of that," Tom Sr., said. "I was tough on him. I didn't have to say anything. All I had to do was look at him. But I apologized that night."

This Olympics, the old man said, any finish would do. He just wanted his son to ski fast and hard.

Tommy Moe, now 23, may have never won a World Cup event before, building a career with a pair of third-place finishes, but he was fierce in practices, a dark-horse favorite among skiing cognoscenti.

"People just don't know how good this kid can be," said Andy Mill, one of the best American downhillers ever.

The skiing world found out just how good Tommy Moe could be.

This was the scene: Aamodt, a racer who may go on to win five medals at these Games, had just finished, putting up the time to beat, stirring the crowd of 35,000 at the bottom of the hill.

"When I came to the finish, I was really enjoying life," Aamodt said. "It was a great experience to be in the lead. It only lasted a few minutes."

Down came Tommy Moe on this sleek course designed by

Bernhard Russi.

"I wasn't nervous at the start," he said. "I wasn't thinking of winning."

He went charging through the tricky S-turns at the top and flew over the Russi jump, the flight that divides the course in half.

Midway, the kid was fourth overall, but churning hard, gathering speed, cutting the turns so close he nearly clipped two gates. And when he flew down the final jump, a monster called the elevator, he nearly flipped over, windmilling his right arm to keep his balance.

"I said to myself, 'there is no way I'm going to pull this off and be in there,' " he said.

He got to the bottom and the crowd stopped screaming, stunned by the time, stunned by the sight of an American on top of the downhill world.

"The biggest surprise was to come down and see my name first on the board," he said. "I took my skis off and said, 'Hey, I might be in there for a medal.' "

The race was over, period. Moe danced in the snow, kissed his skis, and finally saw his father.

Later, they would stand together in a holding area, along with Tommy Moe's stepmother Tyra.

And the family would pose together in front of an American flag with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"She told me she had been to Alaska before, working in a cannery," Tom Sr., said.

It was that kind of day. Quirky. Preposterous. By the end, even the Norwegians were cheering when word filtered through the crowd that the Moe family had emigrated from Norway to America in the late 19th Century.

Father and son finally hugged in a VIP tent two hours after the race, matching smiles, matching eyes.

"Do you want the coat?," Tom Sr. said.

"No," Tommy Moe said. "You keep it."

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