OYER, Norway -- As Olympic Alpine history was falling into place, American skiers were simply falling.
Switzerland's Vreni Schneider won the slalom yesterday, becoming the first woman skier to ever win three career Alpine gold medals.
Her time of 1 minute, 56.01 seconds in two runs earned Switzerland its first Olympic Alpine gold medal since the 1988 Games, when Schneider won two. She had won a silver in the combined and a bronze in the giant slalom at these Games before yesterday.
She now joins Norway's Kjetil Andre Aamodt as the only two five-time Alpine medalists.
"This is a wonderful day, and a dream come true. I am so happy," said Schneider. "I was quite satisfied with the medals I already had won here at Lillehammer. A gold in addition is absolutely wonderful."
TC Schneider, 29, is being modest. Those who know her say she is never satisfied unless she wins.
She was fifth after the first run yesterday, and had to beat archrival Pernilla Wiberg of Sweden, Austria's Elfriede Eder, Slovenia's Katja Koren and teammate Gabriela Zingre.
Schneider responded by slashing through the 68 gates in 56.33 seconds, the fastest time of the day. Eder won the silver with a combined time of 1:56.35 and Koren (1:56.61) took the bronze, Slovenia's second medal since declaring its independence in 1991.
"I knew Schneider would ski fast in the second round," said Koren. "She's not only a great skier, but a gambler."
Said Swiss coach Paul-Andre Dubosson: "At the end of the day, Vreni is always best. The reason she is so good is that she skis with her heart. Other skiers must take risks to beat her."
Maybe some did, which may explain why 17 women never reached the finish line in the first run yesterday. Fifty-six women started.
One of those who fell was American Eva Twardokens, who went down in the second run. Teammate Julie Parisien also went off course near the end of the second run.
Arne Myhrvold, president of the Norwegian Olympic Committee, defended the course. "In my opinion, the conditions are perfect," he said.
Swiss team coach Josef Zenhaeusern was more blunt. "That so many failed to finish here today does not mean that there is something the matter with the course," said Zenhaeusern. "In the Olympics, you have to give it your all. Nobody cares about an eighth or a ninth place."
In addition to Parisien and Twardokens, Carrie Sheinberg, from Port Washington, N.Y., was 18th.
None of the three blamed their failure on the course.
"I was coming into a flush a little bit crazy, and I think I crossed my tips, and when you're in a flush, there's no time for that," Twardokens said. "I was bummed that I fell -- I wanted to get in the top 15 today. It was my fault."
Parisien's poor showing continued her streak of bad luck. Her brother, Jean-Paul, died in December 1992, and Parisien won a silver medal at the slalom at the World Championships last February.
But since then, she has not had a top-10 finish in any race despite once being ranked No. 1 to No. 3.
Parisien is considering a tour on the pro circuit to free up more time so she can attend school.
"I think maybe I need a break," said Parisien, who was fourth and missed out on a medal in Albertville by a few hundredths of a second. "This has been a very stressful year. All of this isn't as important as it used to be. I'm having a good time, but I'm not sharp right now. Maybe a diversion like school might help."
Sheinberg, 21, is basically an international newcomer. She finished with times of 1:01.63 and 58.53
"This year I'm just starting to get comfortable in World Cups, let alone the Olympics," she said. "I skied a little bit more like myself today and at least I can build from that.
"I know I can ski better. I would hate to think that's the best I could have possibly done."