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Fletcher medals in final run


BARDONECCHIA, Italy -- Rosey Fletcher finally won an Olympic medal, thanks, in no small part, to a little girl back home named Lillian.

And to a cardboard cutout of another little girl named Flat Rosey.

With her medal hopes on the line yesterday in a race for third against Austrian Doris Guenther, Fletcher tapped her left breast pocket and charged out of the gate to claim the bronze in the parallel giant slalom snowboarding event.

The race, won by Daniela Meuli of Switzerland, was the final snowboarding event of the Turin Games and brought to a successful end the run of the U.S. snowboarding team, which finished with three golds, three silvers and Fletcher's bronze.

"It feels awesome and actually, from Day 1 and hanging out with all the halfpipers and snowboard-crossers I knew this was going to be one hell of an Olympics and I have had fun this whole time," said Fletcher, 30, who became the first snowboarder to compete in three Olympics.

"My roommate, Michelle [Gorgone], and I have done and seen and experienced pretty much all we possibly could and, from the beginning, I really just wanted to enjoy the journey, and that was something that I never allowed myself to do at Nagano and Salt Lake."

Afterward, Fletcher explained that Lillian, a third-grader from her hometown of Girdwood, Alaska, had given her the cardboard likeness after reading the children's book, Flat Stanley, about a boy who was flattened and shipped around the word.

"Me and Flat Rosey, we've been in the Village, we've been having fun, doing all sorts of things, taking pictures. But today it was about Flat Rosey and me racing," Fletcher said. "It wasn't about media pressure or team pressure. It was just a race for me and Flat Rosey."

In reality, it was a race for all of Girdwood, a community of fewer than 2,000 residents, who had raised "Go, Rosey!" and "We Love You, Rosey!" banners. Alyeska Ski Resort on the outskirts of town proclaimed yesterday "Rosey Fletcher Day."

Fletcher said Flat Rosey helped her forget about all of those relying on her in this, her last season of competitive racing. The pressure was substantial. Fletcher, who has two World Cup podium finishes, had been expected to win an Olympic medal long before the Turin Games.

In 1998 at Nagano, she crashed on her first run in the giant slalom competition and did not finish. At Salt Lake City, she fell on her first run and ended up 26th.

Yesterday, after Gorgone failed to qualify for the 16-rider final, Fletcher advanced to the semifinals, where she lost to Meuli and was relegated to what is referred to as the small final: a two-run heat against Guenther.

"I never counted Rosey out but it's just such a mental game and then to be in the race for third and fourth - it's the toughest race in the Olympics," said Peter Foley, one of the U.S. team coaches. Guenther missed a gate in the first run and received a 1.50-second penalty to start the second run. Fletcher, standing in the gate to start the second run, felt the pressure mounting and sought reassurance from Flat Rosey.

She needed only to finish with fair speed to earn a medal but could hear Guenther closing. Fletcher, a silver medalist at the world championships in 1999 and 2001, held on to win by .69 of a second.

"I don't want to take anything away from Jerry Garcia, but what a long, strange trip it's been,," Fletcher said. As for Flat Rosey, Fletcher said she was just on vacation and would soon be "returned to her rightful owner."

Lillian had clearly been hopeful of better things. Flat Rosey, wearing an orange cap and with painted gold hair, also was adorned with what looked to be a gold medal draped around her neck.

More than likely, Lillian won't mind that the real medal turned out to be bronze.

Pete Thomas writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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