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'Chaos' Marks Opening of Alpine Skiing Events

By Rob Gloster
Associated Press
Monday, February 9, 1998; 10:00 p.m. EST

HAKUBA, Japan — In weather conditions that the world's top skier called "chaos,'' Alpine racing finally began at the Olympics, where a driving snowstorm postponed another event.

Heavy snow reduced visibility Tuesday morning (Monday night EST) and made it tough for skiers to turn sharply around the 55 gates on each run of the men's combined slalom. Plumes of snow trailed the competitors.

"It was chaos,'' said Hermann Maier of Austria, who has dominated the World Cup skiing season but was just eighth after the two slalom runs. "It was too difficult. I've never seen anything like it.''

Mario Reiter of Austria had an aggregate time of 1 minute, 31.85 seconds for the two runs, giving him a lead of almost two seconds over Lasse Kjus of Norway. Andrzej Bachleda of Poland was third.

None of the three Americans entered in the combined event finished the two slalom runs. Matt Grosjean of Aliso Viejo, Calif., was third after the first run, but missed a gate on the second — burying his head in his hands in disappointment as he skied off the course.

About 8 inches of fresh snow overnight forced postponement of the women's Super-G, meaning no Alpine medal will be awarded until at least Wednesday (Tuesday night EST).

There was no immediate word on rescheduling the Super-G, in which Picabo Street will make her Nagano Olympic debut.

"You want snow because it's a winter event, but it's like, `WE'VE GOT ENOUGH NOW, THANK YOU,''' Street said, cupping her hands around her mouth and shouting into the driving snow.

The snow has caused havoc for the Alpine schedule, which was supposed to begin Sunday with the men's downhill. That race has been reset for Wednesday.

The weather forecast called for snow continuing into Wednesday, but for the sun to finally break through after that.

"I'm just waiting anxiously out here, like everybody else,'' Street said. "It's hard, you know. It's a double-edged sword.''

The combined slalom is half of the combined event, which includes a downhill set for Thursday.

Despite the work of 420 soldiers, whose green jackets stood out like dots on the whitewashed Happo'one course, snow gathered quickly. An additional 170 soldiers were deployed with shovels because of the heavy snow.

Reiter had the fastest time on both runs — 47.37 seconds on the first and 44.48 on the second run. Kjus' aggregate time was 1:33.66, while Bachleda's was 1:34.49.

Maier, by far the best downhiller left in the event, had an aggregate time of 1:35.90 — meaning he'll need to make up 4.05 seconds on teammate Reiter in the combined downhill, a nearly insurmountable margin even for Maier.

Maier was fortunate to still be in the event. He nearly fell halfway through the first run, but managed to stay on course and finished 11th.

Grosjean, who finished fourth in a World Cup combined event in Switzerland this season, is a strong slalom skier but not as good in the downhill. So he pushed hard on the second run -- too hard.

"I had to be fast in both runs of the slalom, and I was looking to make up time,'' he said. "I misjudged my line on the first roll there. I went over it too straight and there was no way I was going to make the next gate. When I saw where I had to be, I just kind of threw my body over there.''

No American has won an Olympic medal in the men's combined event.

Only 26 of the 38 racers finished the first run. Among those to slide off the course were Jason Rosener of Breckenridge, Colo., and Chad Fleischer of Vail, Colo.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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