Annemarie Moser-proell of Austria has dominated women's skiing for a decade, and today she finally captured the one prize that had eluded her for so many years -- a gold medal in the women's downhill.
Battling bone-numbing cold and gusting winds that pushed the wind-chill factor to minus-30 at the top f Whiteface Mountain, Moser-Proell streaked down the course in 1 minute 37.52 seconds. When it was over, she insisted, "I never thought I could lose."
Sunday was another busy and somewhat bizarre day for the 13th Winter Olympics with thousands of spectators once again relying on buses that came hours late or not at all. With temperatures in the single digits, there were many reported cases of hypotermia and frostbite.
But at the downtown speed skating oval, Americans were feeling warm all over after Leah Poulos-Mueller won her second silver medal of the competition, finishing second to the current overall world champion. Natalia Petruseva of the Soviet Union, in the 1,000 meters. Poulos-Mueller won the silver in the same event at Innsbruck four years ago.
Once again, Beth Heiden, the cover girl of the women speed skater failed to win a medal finishing fifth in this event.
"The pressure is really good for my brother," she said. "He knows how to handle it. It's a new experience for me. It kind of bothers me, but there's nothing I can do about it."
In cross country skiing Thomas Wassberg, a Swedish electrician, edged Finland's Juha Mieto by one-hundredth of a second for the gold medal in the 15-kilometer, the closest Olympic ski race in history.
"Unbelievable," was Wassberg's reaction. "There should be two gold medals, one for me and one for Mieto." Bill Koch of Guilford, Vt., was the highest-finishing American, in 16th place.
"I feel pretty happy with my race," he said. "I was two minutes, behind at Innsbuck and finished sixth. I was two minutes behind today and finished 16th."
Anton Innauer, an Austrian soldier, won the gold medal in the 70-meter ski jump and Hirokazu Yagi of Japan and Manfred Deckert of East Germany tied for the silver Innauer jumped 89 and 90 meters for a total of 256.3 points. Yagi and Deckert scored 249.2.
Jeff Davis of Steamboat Springs, Colo. jumped 90 meters on his first try, but judges ruled he made his run from the wrong starting position and they said that the competition had to start over. Davis failed to better 80 meters the second time around and finished 17th.
Moser-Proell who briefly retired in 1976 to take care of business and an ailing father, said he knew she had a "99-percent chance to win" when Switzerland's Marie-Theres Nadig came across the finish line more than half a second behind.
At that point, the six-time World Cup winner raised her arms in victory and hugged her husband. Nearby, several Austrians in the crowd began singing "Immer wieder, immer wieder (ever always), Moeser-Proell."
Nadig, winner of six of seven downhill races this year and the downhill gold medalist in 1972, had trouble with the howling winds.
"Just after the top section I was hit by a gust of wind that blew me right off the course," she said. "I saw myself heading straight for the fence and only just managed to correct my line of descent."
In fact conditions were so bad officials had comtemplated postponing the downhill.
Even though Moser-Proell began celebrating after Nadig's run, there was one more serious challenge: Hanni Wenzel of tiny Liechtenstein, the 12th skier down the mountain, was 22-hundreths of a second behind at the first intermediate clocking. But she could not make up the difference and finished second in 1:38.22, edging Nadig for the silver.
The Americans also were celebrating on the slopes after Heidi Preuss, an 18-year-old from Lakeport, N.H., finished fourth at 1:39.51. Veteran Cindy Nelson was seventh and Holly Flanders 16th, the U.S. team's best overall showing in the woman's Olympic downhill.
Moser-Proell had won only one downhill this season after suffering an ankle injury last fall and had not been terribly spectacular during training run last week. "I was very confident at the start," she insisted. "Even after training I never thought I could lose."
Even as she spoke in a raucous press conference at the bottom of the mountain, Moser-Proell, 26, seemed to bob and tuck her head as if she were still skimming down the mountain. Someone asked her if she had any regrets about not participating in the 1976 Games.
"I was home beside my father who was very sick," she said. "I didn't regret one minute of it. I just took care of father. My only thoughts were there."
Back at the speed skating rink, where the temperature was 5 degree fahrenheit, Poulos-Mueller had the good fortune to skate in a pair with Petruseva.
The two went off in the second race and stayed close through the first 600 meters before Petruseva, the bronze medal winner in the 500, finished strongly in 1:24.10 to Mueller's 1:25.41. "When I saw that time," said U.S. coach Dianne Holum, "I knew that was the one to beat.
Heiden also had a favorable pairing, with Karin Enke of East Germany, the 1,500 meter gold medalist. They too, jostled back and forth for the lead before Enke burst away off the last turn. She was not fast enough to beat Silvia Albreacht of East Germany for the bronze.
When it was over, Holum insisted she was not at all disappointed with Heiden's result that accompanies her seventh-place finishes in the 500 and 1,500.
"I was happy with it. She started well and she finished strong. It will help her attitude in the 3,000. It will help her confidence.
"It's tough coming to the Games with people expecting you to clean up. I think Beth's doing well. A lot of people don't understand you can be world champion and not win one Olympic medal . . . Here, if you don't come in the top three, they write you off. That stinks."
"I was really happy with my race," said Heiden, the 1979 world champion and runner-up in 1980. "I was paired with Enke and she finished farther ahead of me today. I didn't think I could beat her, but it was nice to be so close."
Heiden insisted that a sore Achilles' tendon has not been a factor in her showing this week, and that she is still confident going into the 3,000 meter on Wednesday.
"I guess the 3,000 could be my best event," she said. "Before the Olympics started, I would have said it was my best. I wouldn't have said that to you guys (the reporters).
"Is it awkward that he (brother Eric) is winning and I'm not? Eric is usually on top. With me, I'm close, but it's never for sure."
Petruseva, a 25-year-old Soviet "master of sport" and the mother of a 2-year-old boy, said she never had doubts about today's race."I was sure I would win because it is my favorite distance."
She was also asked why it took her so long to get through the dope-testing procedure after the World's in Norway last month.
"It was quite a surprise that I beat Beth in three distances," she said. "I was so excited, it took me much more time to do what they wanted me to do."