CALGARY, FEB. 18 -- The United States claimed its best results ever in the Winter Olympics luge singles competition today when Bonny Warner placed sixth.
East Germans swept the event at Canada Olympic Park for the second consecutive Olympics, including a gold medal for Steffi Walter, who won the event at the 1984 Games.
Walter, a 25-year-old who took 1987 off after the birth of her son and barely made the East German team, rallied from second place going into today's final two heats to win by just one-tenth of a second. Her runs of 45.969 and 46.003 gave her a four-heat total of 3:03.973, just better than countrywomen Ute Oberhoffner (3:04.105) and Cerstin Schmidt (3:04.181), who got the silver and the bronze, respectively.
"It's out of this world to make two gold medals in a row," Walter said through an interpreter. "But any of the top three could have been first."
Warner, a 25-year-old from Mount Baldy, Calif., was thought to have outside medal hopes although even she predicted the East Germans would be impossible to beat. She came into the day eighth, but saved her best run in the two-day event for last, clocking a 46.371 for a 3:06.056 total.
That was good enough to move her up two places. It also demonstrated that Americans may soon earn their first medal ever in the highly technical ice-sledding event.
"We're on the verge," Warner said. "Everbody knows what a luge is now. Even in Peoria."
The United States also received its best one-two finish ever. No two Americans had placed in the top 10 before, but Cammy Myler of Lake Placid, N.Y., came in ninth with a combined time of 3:06.835. Myler could have finished seventh had it not been for a poor last run that dropped her two places. A third American, Erica Terwillegar, also from Lake Placid, was 11th in 3:07.291.
The best times for the United States were only two-tenths of a second slower than the East German team. Walter had trained little, making the East German team after the deadline, and was not thought to be as strong a contender for the gold medal as current world champion Schmidt. But she was a threatening second after the opening two heats on Wednesday, and used the first heat today to move into first place, her time of 45.969 passed Oberhoffner's 46.150. Oberhoffner's final run of 45.992 was just out of gold range.
The previous Olympic best for the United States was a ninth in men's doubles in 1984 by Ron Rossi and Doug Bateman. The previous best in singles was a 12th by Frank Masley here earlier this week.
According to the Americans, their showing here means that a medal is easily attainable at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France. "You can bet on it," team manager leader Mary Ellen Fletcher said. This past year on the World Cup circuit was their most successful ever, with 14 top-five finishes.