In the Olympics, fourth place is no place, as Austria's Petra Kronberger discovered last Tuesday in the women's super-G. Julie Parisien found it out Thursday the hard way, after leading the first run of the slalom.
Teaching the 20-year-old American this lesson were Kronberger herself and a couple of skiers from lesser Alpine nations, Annelise Coberger of New Zealand and Blanca Fernandez-Ochoa of Spain. They all managed to overtake Parisien in the second run on another sunny day in the Savoy and win the gold, silver and bronze medals, in that order.
By winning, Kronberger proved without doubt that she is the world's best female skier of the early 1990s. It was her second gold medal of these Winter Games (kind of an early celebration of her 23rd birthday today) and a stunning addition to her previous credits--World Cup overall champion in both 1990 and '91, and downhill gold medalist in last year's World Alpine Ski Championships.
Kronberger, who also tops the current World Cup standings, can do it all, as she showed last week by winning her first Olympic gold medal in the Alpine com- bined.
Third in the first run, just 0.06 of a second behind Parisien and 0.03 behind Fernandez-Ochoa, Kronberger said: "I knew I had to ski as fast as possible in the second run because there were so many girls who could make good times."
That she did, uncorking the second-fastest run, 44.40 seconds, to move into the lead with a total time of 1:32.68, beating Coberger by 0.42, with Fernandez-Ochoa taking third, another 0.25 back. Coberger, incidentally, had made the speediest second run, in 44.08, moving from eighth to second place.
Parisien, of Auburn, Me., was beaten before she started.
"I said to myself last night that the only thing I didn't want was to be first after the first run," she said. "This was the first slalom I've led all year, and it's in the Olympics. That put a lot of pressure on me."
The pressure proved too great. She could muster only the seventh-fastest second run and fell 0.05 short of the bronze medal.
"I was a little bit sluggish," she said. "I didn't quite feel the power in the start that I did after the first run, but I gave it everything I could at the moment. I should have gone for it more instead of thinking, 'Finish, just finish and you can be in the medals.' But next time I'll get 'em. I'm young and I've got a long way to go, so this is a good start."
Parisien said her broken wrist "had no real effect on what happened," but Dr. Richard Steadman, who treated her last month, noted: "She was the only skier in the race wearing a cast."
Fernandez-Ochoa, 28, who has raced in two previous Olympics--at Sarajevo in 1984 and at Calgary in 1988--without getting a medal, said Parisien "didn't take enough risks and just tried to get down the hill, but she's only 20 and in her first Olympics."
Coberger is the same age as Parisien, yet she skied off with the silver medal.
"I had nothing to lose after my first pathetic run, so I went all out and it paid off," she said. "I'm sure it's a shock that someone from New Zealand has won a medal, but I hope people get used to the idea, because I don't plan to go away too quickly."
Coberger, whose name sounds German because her grandfather came from that country, learned to ski in the mountains of New Zealand, where her father owns a ski shop. She spent a couple of years in Steamboat Springs, Colo., working with a Swiss coach, and did not come completely from nowhere to the Olympics, having already won a World Cup slalom this season. She is a close third in the slalom standings behind Vreni Schneider and Fernandez-Ochoa.
As for Schneider, this was supposed to have been her chance to make up for failing to finish Wednesday's giant slalom, when she blew her first try at duplicating Italian Alberto Tomba's feat of winning gold medals in the same event at successive Olympics. The 27-year-old Swiss veteran placed fifth in the first run Thursday but skied too conservatively the next time and wound up seventh.
So Schneider, a double Olympic gold medalist in 1988, returns home this time with nothing to show for her two days of racing.
Kronberger, meanwhile, goes back to Austria with two gold medals of her own.
Asked if, given the choice, she would have preferred to win one of them in the downhill rather than the slalom, she said: "The downhill is a popular event. But they are equal. Besides, in the slalom, you have to make two runs."
All too true, unfortunately, for Julie Parisien.