U.S. women out of wings and ready in the gates LILLEHAMMER 94


LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- They were waiting in a room outside a press center, watching the end of a news conference involving figure skater Nancy Kerrigan.

The American women's skiers were ready to meet the world. But the world was not ready to meet them.

"We saw everyone get up and leave," said Eva Twardokens, a 12-year U.S. team member. "We knew we were next."

But listen up: The American women are going to win some medals at the Winter Olympics. And Tommy Moe's downhill victory yesterday may be the spark that triggers America's best alpine Olympics ever.

"I think the women are tired of being in the shadow of men's competition," said Picabo Street, a silver medalist in the combined at the 1993 world championships. "I watch video of the men and we're trying to ski just like them."

This is about power, powder and peaking at the right time.

The Americans have the look of a team on the rise as the women's events begin unfolding with tomorrow's Super G at Kvitfjell.

There is Street, the daughter of flower children, quickly adjusting to life on a World Cup circuit and making a name for herself in the downhill.

Hilary Lindh of Alaska, an Olympic downhill runner-up in 1992, is a downhill favorite in 1994.

Julie Parisien missed a bronze in the slalom in the blink of an eye in 1992, and is recovering emotionally from the death of her brother and skiing idol, J. P. Parisien. But she has battled through the circuit in recent weeks, and is talking of a breakthrough in Norway.

There also is the steadying influence of Diann Roffe-Steinrotter, a three-time Olympian and 1992 giant slalom silver medalist.

It's Roffe who understands better than most the lure of the Olympics, and the ability of U.S. women to stage upsets at the biggest events in the sport.

"Getting here is the hardest part," she said. "Once you're here, what have you got to lose? If you go into the start gate with reservations, you're bound for the second page of the results."

"I don't know what it's about with the Olympic Games and the Americans," she added. "But this is the greatest thing on earth and you just ski the best you can."

Lindh, who recently won her first World Cup downhill, said there is a motto for the American women at the Olympics: "Anything can happen."

"People you think will do well, don't," she said. "And the people you don't think will do well, do."

"For me," she added, "it's best not to think back to 1992. It's a blur. I came down the mountain and got a medal."

American women have won 15 alpine Olympic medals, compared to seven for the men.

And after winning just two in Albertville, France in 1992, the U.S women could double the count in 1994.

"But it's hard," Roffe said. "There is depth. It's like everyone is trying to keep up with the Joneses. You're seeing a lot of stronger women out there on the slopes."

The skier to keep the sharpest eye on this time is Street, 22. She is bright and personable. She is also an aggressive racer on the slopes, prone to mistakes, but also able to achieve greatness.

Her style appears clear: She wants to ski like a guy.

"You're seeing people ski with a lot more power and a lot more focus," she said. "The men have made that step. The women are trying to."

"You're seeing people flailing down the course, throwing themselves to the next gate," she added. "It is more of a scrap out there. I mean, you see people, and you say, 'Oh, wow, cool.' "

Parisien, a stylist who cuts down a course with precision, actually prefers to ski, well, just like a woman.

"We're women and we do what we do the way that we do it," she said. "I don't like the idea that we have to be this aggressive because the men do it like that. We've got our own way."

And here, in Norway, the American way may just be filled with medals.

"On the days you're up there in the starting gate, and you feel like a dirtbag, you know there are a lot of people behind you in America," Street said. "We're ready."

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