The world's greatest skier, Ingemar Stenmark, slipped more than usual near the bottom of the mountain today but stayed in fine position to win the men's giant slalom at the Winter Olympics. s
Three-time world champion and unbeaten in his last 14 giant slaloms, Stenmark finished the first run of the two-day event thirty-two hundredths of a second behind the leader, Andreas Wenzel, who could bring tiny Liechtenstein great glory by duplicating today's performance.
It was a light day by Olympic standards, with just one final, the women's 10-kilometer skiing won by an East German, although there was a bit of international intrigue and three American athletes among the leaders in two uncompleted events.
Charlie Tickner of Littleton, Colo., and David Santee of Park Ridge, Ill., were second and third, respectively, after the compulsory figures of men's figure skating. An East German, Jan Hoffman, was the leader after the opening of the three-day program.
And Americans at Intervale were joyous as Walter Malmquist of Post Mills, Vt., ended the 70-meter jumping phase of the Nordic combined in second place.
"Walter, Walter," the crowd chanted as the 23-year-old soared 84 and 80 meters and trailed two-time Olympic champion Ulrich Wehling of East Germany by 5.4 points. Wehling, who won the gold medal in 1972 and '76, jumped 85 and 81 meters for 227.2 points.
The victory by Barbara Petzold in the 10-kilometer race was the first for an East German woman in an Olympic cross-country event -- and a mild upset because racers from Finland and the Soviet Union had been considered better.
Petzold, starting 33rd in a 38-woman field, set a blistering pace and finished with a time of 30 minutes 31.54 seconds, more than three seconds ahead of Finland's Hikka Rihivuori. Rihivuori's teammate, Helena Takalo, won the bronze medal, as the favorite Soviets failed to crack the top three in Olympic women's cross-country racing for the first time since 1968.
Alison Owen-Spencer of McCall, Idaho, was the top American finisher, placing 22nd with a time of 32:41.33. Beth Paxson of Charlotte, Vt., came in 25th in 33:01.60. Leslie Bancroft of Paris, Maine, placed 28th in 33:04.71. and Lyn Spencer of Newfane, Vt., came in 31st in 33.13.83.
In men's figure skating, the defending world champion, Vladimir Kovalev, withdrew almost immediately after finishing fifth in the compulsory round, officially because of illness. A free spirit by Soviet standards, Kovalev reportedly has been naughty of late.
"Vladimir has a very strong flu," said the Soviet team manager, Alexandr Vandenia. "He tried to do his best and skate. The (fifth) place is no factor."
Indeed, The leader, Hoffman is not considered a great free skater. Tickner is, and so is Robin Cousins of Great Britain, currently fourth.
Most of the crowd was drawn to Whiteface Mountain by Stenmark, who has not lost a giant slalom since March 8, 1978, in Waterville Valley, N.H. He prefers to come from behind, but hardly seemed satisfied after today's run.
His was the fastest of the intermediate times, 50.97 seconds. But he lost precious fractions of seconds near the end, slipping several times and nearly having to break a fall with his hand at one point.
Clearly frustrated, the stoic Swede brushed past reporters at the finish line, bristling: "Questions, questions. Always bloody questions."
The event will be completed Tuesday on another course.
Wenzel, whose sister Hanni won the silver medal in the women's downhill and is among the favorites in two other Alpine events, was both pleased and apprehensive after his run of 1 minute 20.17 seconds.
"I made some mistakes, but they were small mistakes," Wenzel said. "I didn't think I had a good run, but apparently the other guys made mistakes too. Tomorrow Stenmark will attack the course and will be very difficult to (beat).
"I will attack too."
If Wenzel could do well Tuesday, it reportedly would be the first brother-sister alpine-medal performance in the history of the Winter Games.
"If I can have another run like this," Wenzel said, "I can win. It (the duel with Stenmark) will be interesting."
The start is a cliff-like drop that foiled the top American, Phil Mahre, who was off line through the first eight gates. And the defending World Cup champion, Peter Luescher of Switzerland, fell after mustering one of the fastest intermediate times.
Mahre started 10th, just after Stenmark and just before Wenzel, and was sixth at the end of his run. It seemed error free to untrained eyes, though he realized it probably would not stay among the top 10.
He was right.
As the others swirled down the Parkway Course, Mahre kept dropping back. After 30 racers, he was 13th. At the end of the competion, his 1:21.74 was good for 14th place, one spot ahead of his brother, Steve.
Cary Adgate was 23rd and the other American, Pete Peterson, who skied so well in the downhill, overextended himself at the third gate and fell.
The anticipation Tuesday will be Stenmark, who has dominated his sport after being favored in the Innsbruck Games and finishing third in the giant slalom and falling in the slalom there. At 23, he has won 25 of his last 40 races.
He seems to glide where others clearly are working quite hard -- and prefers to establish a near-the-leader position the first run and charge down the mountain the second.
"The gold medal is more important to me than the World Cup," he said.
"I have won the World Cup three times."
Like the shoe companies who vie for the fastest feet in the Summer Games, the ski companies have millions sliding down the mountains here. One firm, Knessil, had extraordinary luck in the downhill and misfortune in the giant slalom today.
Its main skier, Leonhard Stock of Austria, won the downhill after making the team just two days before. But he was just seventh after the first giant slalom run.
"Just not enough practice," he said. "The course was nice. I'm pleased with where I am. I just haven't had enough training."