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Skiers Moseley, Street Finally Strike Gold for U.S.

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 10, 1998; Page A1




 Jonny Moseley performs his 360-degree spin. (Laszlo Balogh/Reuters)
NAGANO, Feb. 11 (Wednesday) — It took four days of competition, 11 medal events and a sizable number of disappointing finishes by U.S. Olympic athletes. But under bright sunshine this morning on a hill in Iizuna Kogen Heights and on a mountain in nearby Hakuba, the United States finally put two golds on the medal scoreboard. Freestyle skier Jonny Moseley was the first, competing in an event some Americans might not even realize is in the Winter Olympics.

Skiing last of 16 in the moguls event, Moseley, 22, won the gold with a spectacular 360-degree spin on the last jump of his run.

With the medal drought officially ended, U.S. skier Picabo Street gave her country a surprising gold in the super giant slalom an hour later.

Street, a downhill specialist, was coming back from knee surgery and a crash in January to compete today in an event in which she has never excelled.

Their medals came to a nation accustomed to winning them. But Japanese speedskater Hiroyasu Shimizu had brought the first gold to his country the night before, bearing up not only under the pressures that face any athlete but also under the enormous expectation of his own nation, the host of these Games, which had not won an individual gold medal since 1972. In his audience were not the bobbing youth of Moseley's mogul course but Crown Prince Naruhito, son of the emperor, cheering from his seat in the M-wave Arena.

 Spectators cheer for Johnny Moseley.
(Dylan Martinez/Reuters)
Shimizu, world record-holder in the 500, had to block out the memory of past Japanese disappointments like Midori Ito, who offered a public apology to her nation for failing to win the gold medal in women's figure skating in the 1992 Olympics.

"When my name was called, there was big applause, and I was thinking that I felt this huge voice all expecting Hiroyasu Shimizu to win the race and win the gold medal," he said after his victory. "Of course, there was pressure for me that I had to meet those expectations."

With Japan buoyed by its first gold of the games Tuesday night, 65,000 fans trekked to Hakuba this morning for ski jumping, the competition where Japan's gold medal chances seemed even more promising. Masahiko Harada, with a comfortable first round lead, jumped last but landed so short that he was instantly eliminated from medal contention. It was a mistake eerily reminiscent of the one he'd made at the 1994 Olympics at Lillehammer, when on his last jump he blew an almost unbeatable lead. Japan's Kazuyoshi Funaki at least won the silver ski jumping medal.

Rebounding for Japan, however, Tae Satoya soon brought additional gold in the women's freestyle, a victory as surprising as Street's.

Gold was also lost today, when the International Olympic Committee stripped Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati of his gold medal after he tested positive for marijuana. Rebagliati said he will appeal the decision. The medal was the first ever awarded in Olympic snowboarding and had made Rebagliati and instant celebrity here, swarmed by autograph seekers when the 26-year-old burst across the finish Tuesday.

The United States can now lay claim to two of the 45 medals that have been awarded thus far in the Games. Finland's Janne Lahtela won silver with a 26.00 score, 0.93 behind Moseley. Finland's Sami Mustonen won bronze, scoring 25.76.

"I'm just so happy," Moseley said after his victory. "This is the greatest feeling I've ever had in my life. I was super-nervous. I had pressure from myself, but because I have worked so hard, I knew I could win. I just breathed in the energy of the crowd. The crowd was thumping; everyone was so loud."

It certainly did not appear that it would take a freestyle skier to get over the medal hurdle. But with the postponements of the men's downhill and women's Super-G this week because of bad weather and the unforeseen disaster of the U.S. snowboarding team in the men's and women's giant slalom, the United States has found medals extraordinarily hard to come by.

The American medal slump has provided a great contrast to the Lillehammer Games in 1994, when Tommy Moe got the alpine team started with gold and silver medals in the downhill and Super G within the first few days of competition. Street soon added a silver in the women's downhill, and the U.S. team was on its way to a record high 13-medal Games.

Moseley has been the overall World Cup champion in freestyle skiing twice, which includes aerials and moguls, but he decided this year to concentrate solely on moguls. He wanted a chance at his dream: an Olympic gold.

"It's the best feeling in the world," he said. "I just had this rush over my body when I got down. It was like everything I had worked for for so long had come together. I knew I'd won when I did the heli [the 360 turn]."

A business-finance major at the University of California, Moseley has been competing in freestyle skiing for 14 years. Though he has won 13 World Cup gold medals and one bronze medal in the 1995 world championships, he had not won an Olympic medal before today.

"The Olympics motivate me more than anything I've ever done," Moseley had said somewhat prophetically last year. "I want to win over there and I want to do it with a great run, one that's really exciting."

An Olympic medal sport since the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, moguls skiing requires skiers to ski a line down a course and perform aerial maneuvers off of the course's two jumps. Moseley's 360 was the most difficult maneuver executed today.

"I'm going to party like crazy," he said. "I'm going to party like you've never seen me party."

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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