Ridiculous salaries make Twardokens' blood boil LILLEHAMMER '94


LILLEHAMMER -- Eva Twardokens reads the sports pages these days with a mix of disbelief and bemusement.

Another mediocre ballplayer is signing a deal for a sum that will set him up for life. Michael Jordan gets a contract to play baseball, which he hasn't played since his school days.

She has made some good money in sports, too -- more than $100,000 in her best seasons on the World Cup ski tour -- but that's not the kind of income that pays off the mortgage in Santa Cruz, puts a fourth car in the garage and tides you over the rough times.

And despite a season that made Twardokens the first skier on the U.S. Alpine team to qualify for the Lillehammer Olympics and put her in the giant slalom tomorrow, these are the rough times.

The economics of skiing, which is as professional as any Olympic sport, is not "set for life."

It's "what have you done for me lately?"

Twardokens is going to rent out part of her home so she can be certain of making the house payment. She has gone into her savings. If the U.S. ski team didn't feed, clothe and house her for the three months a year they're on the road training and competing, she would have been in a real bind. Since pay is based on one's World Cup ranking, an injury led to an 80 percent pay cut in 1993 for Twardokens.

Had her recovery from two knee surgeries in less than a year been anything less than miraculous, there would be no big contract waiting for her next winter.

It might all be over.

"My sport -- I've put my life into it," she said. "No way do I want to complain. I make enough money. But when I think I've worked all my life, and I've worked my butt off, sometimes when I read about these other athletes, it's ridiculous."

Yet money considerations were not what bothered her the most. To make the Olympic team, she had to begin skiing last summer with her left knee still in pain from surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament.

"I didn't know if I'd be here," she said. "But I think when you're injured, you have to come back. To come back in your specialty is the best way to get healed for life."

The modern Olympics are full of pro athletes with real-life perspectives on the world.

Twardokens, 28, is full of hope that dreams, on which the Olympics thrive, can come true for her.

She has won medals on the World Cup tour, but never a race. She has been to an Olympics but never stood on the podium.

Perhaps the rising tide of U.S. skiing medals in Lillehammer -- by Tommy Moe, Diann Roffe-Steinrotter and Picabo Street -- will lift all boats, even hers.

"It's made the door wider," she said of the United States' success. "More than Tommy's, it was Diann's medal. She hasn't skied well all year.

"Before I said I have to beat [Germany's] Miriam Vogt, I've to beat [Italy's] Deborah Compagnoni. Diann has made me realize the Olympics are a clean slate. Anybody can do it here."

Paul Major, U.S. Alpine director, said he's not sure Twardokens can medal, but she's skiing the best she has all year.

"In Albertville, the pressure hurt her because she was one of the focal points. She'd been on the podium a couple of times coming in. I don't think that helped her," Major said, referring to Twardokens' seventh in the giant slalom and eighth in the super-G at '92 Games. "But I think here, she's going to be a lot more relaxed."

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