American Wins the Downhill in Olympic Upset

<i> From Times Staff Writers</i>

Tommy Moe of Palmer, Alaska, became only the third American male ever to win an Olympic gold medal in Alpine skiing on Sunday when he defeated, in dramatic fashion, local favorite Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway to win the downhill before an estimated crowd of 40,000 at Kvitfjell, Norway.

Moe succeeded where Olympic officials had failed, turning attention to the Lillehammer Games and away from the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan situation.

“I didn’t even have any thoughts in my mind that I was going to win,” said Moe, who won by 0.04 of a second over Aamodt in the closest Alpine race in Olympic history. “I just figured, ‘Hey, I’ll ski the best I can.’ ”


In other developments:

* John Nicks of Costa Mesa’s Ice Capades might have used a similar technique because his pair, Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, performed the best technical program of their 21-month partnership. All it earned them was sixth place entering Tuesday night’s freestyle program, which accounts for two-thirds of the final score, but the competition is more daunting than ever before in the Olympics.

“I think we did what we came to do, which is skate the best we could,” Meno said. “There’s no reason to be disappointed. Four of the teams ahead of us finished among the top five in the Olympics in 1992, and we weren’t even together then.”

* First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was late getting to the slopes and missed Moe’s medal-winning run, but she and daughter Chelsea were in attendance later in the day when the U.S. hockey team rallied from a two-goal third-period deficit to achieve a 4-4 tie against France.

* Norwegians at the Viking Hall celebrated a world-record-setting gold medal performance by countryman Johann Olav Koss, who won easily in the 5,000-meter speedskating event.

Moe silenced a mountain full of clanging cowbells with his victory over Aamodt, the world’s top skier. Moe won with a time of 1 minute, 45.75 seconds.

Aamodt, skiing from the sixth position, had taken the lead from Luxembourg’s Marc Girardelli, much to the delight of fans who cheered wildly and waved Norwegian flags.


But the euphoria was short-lived as Moe, skiing right after Aamodt, stunned the crowd with the finest race of his career. Although he was the world’s ninth-ranked downhill skier entering the Lillehammer Games, Moe had never before won an international race.

After his run, Moe had to wait anxiously to see whether his time would hold up with some of the best downhill racers yet to ski, among them Austria’s Patrick Ortlieb, the defending Olympic champion, and Switzerland’s Franz Heinzer, the reigning World Cup champion.

But he really had only two scares. Canada’s Ed Podivinsky, racing from the 21st position, jumped all the way to third place to take the bronze medal with his run. And France’s Nicolas Burtin, a skier Moe feared on the Kvitfjell course, climbed from the 33rd start position all the way to sixth.

Moe earned the gold 10 years after Americans Bill Johnson and Phil Mahre won the downhill and the slalom, respectively, at the 1984 Sarajevo Games.