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SKIING / CHRIS DUFRESNE : Will Success Spoil Moe, Street?

The ski beat is so fickle. Less than a month after declarations of impending Olympic doom for U.S. skiers, we now consider whether success will spoil them.

Remember Bill Johnson, the 1984 Olympic downhill champion who called his shot at Sarajevo, became a hero, was party to a painful made-for-TV movie, then skied off into the sunset?

It will be interesting to track the two U.S. Alpine stars to emerge from the Lillehammer Games: Tommy Moe and Picabo Street. We exempt from concern veteran Diann Roffe-Steinrotter, the women’s super-G gold medalist, who plans to retire after this month’s World Cup finals at Vail, Colo.

Moe, 24, kick-started America’s four-medal Olympic effort with his dramatic opening-day victory in the men’s downhill. He followed with the silver in the men’s super-G.

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Street, 22, threw a bear hug around fame after taking the silver in the women’s downhill.

Now comes the tough part. When we last left Moe, he was trying to reschedule an appearance on “The Late Show With David Letterman” as he sorted through his endorsement possibilities.

The whirlwind has already affected Moe’s performance. Last weekend, at Aspen, Colo., he finished 55th and 19th in his first two World Cup downhills after his Olympic victory.

Moe acknowledged that he was dragging.

“I just don’t have the edge right now,” he said after the Aspen races. “I’m kind of out of it.”

Moe lacks Street’s marketable personality and catchy name, but he left Norway as the first U.S. male skier to have won two medals in the same Olympics.

Street’s silver might not carry as much weight on Madison Avenue, but it ensures that she will not be denied her 15 minutes of fame.

The concern: Moe and Street are impressionable. Both were successful rehabilitation projects. Moe overcame earlier problems with marijuana and untamed adolescence. Street is, by nature, a spitfire who was suspended by the U.S. ski team three years ago because she lacked a work ethic.

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Both have a lot more to offer. Coaches think Moe can develop into a four-event skier to rival Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway.

This hope is based on two solid slalom runs Moe made in placing fifth in the Alpine combined. He has a long way to go in slalom, and playing catch-up won’t be easy.

“It’s very hard to get that last second to the top,” said Aamodt, who is not shaking in his boots just yet.

Street, passed over as an Olympic starter in the super-G, should be scoring much better in that event.

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She was the racer most affected by the cancellation of the make-up super-G Friday at Mammoth Lakes. After finishing 12th in Wednesday’s super-G, she needed another solid finish to qualify for next week’s super-G in the World Cup finals at Vail.

Only the top 20 in each discipline are guaranteed starts in the finals. Street does not rank among the top 20 in super-G, but with a strong finish Friday she could have qualified as an at-large seeded skier based on overall World Cup points.

Now, Street will compete only in next week’s downhill, the event in which she won the silver at Lillehammer.

If success doesn’t destroy or distract them, Moe and Street could be bigger stars at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

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U.S. Alpine Director Paul Major said the team will take its cues from Moe, the Pied Piper of Lillehammer.

“The true test of a champion is, are they going to come bouncing back?” he said. “The thing we want to do with Tommy is avoid those mistakes. Tommy’s got such a good head on his shoulders--he realizes there’s going to be lot of pressure on him. There’s a lot of potential to commercialize him. That’s fine, given that he can still ski and train properly. But he’s got his feet on the ground.”


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