MOUNT ALLAN, ALBERTA, FEB. 22 -- All the skiing world knows the pressure the Austrians are under. Skiing is their national sport. If they don't win in the Olympics, the whole country goes into a funk. "To Austria, absolutely nothing else exists," U.S. skier Debbie Armstrong said today.
Worse yet, going into the Olympics, the Austrians were not expected to do particularly well. Many thought a prodigious Swiss team might win almost every one of the 10 gold medals available at Nakiska.
The Austrians were an afterthought.
But then the Olympic races started, and the Austrians began to show the people back home, as well as everyone else in the world, that they are about as good at skiing this mountain as they are at handling pressure.
This morning, Sigrid Wolf, a 24-year-old secretary from Eldigenalp, continued Austria's surprising string of victories by defeating Michela Figini of Switzerland to win the women's super giant slalom at the Winter Olympics.
Wolf beat Figini by exactly one second -- a lot of time in a race like this. Her time was 1 minute 19.03 seconds; Figini's was 1:20.03.
Wolf's victory gave Austria its third gold medal in the six Alpine skiing events contested so far. Figini, the 1984 gold medalist in the women's downhill, was the fourth Swiss skier to win an Alpine silver medal.
Overall, Austria has won three golds and two silvers on the mountain; Switzerland has won one gold, four silvers and two bronzes.
Canada's Karen Percy won her second bronze medal in four days when she finished third in 1:20.29 in today's race, which is a cross between the downhill and the giant slalom. Percy also won the bronze in the women's downhill.
Edith Thys, an exuberant 21-year-old from Olympic Valley, Calif., finished a surprising ninth, giving the United States its highest finish in the Alpine events.
Thys' time was 1:20.93. Armstrong, the 1984 gold medalist in the giant slalom who returned to skiing recently after a leg injury, finished 18th in 1:21.87.
Wolf, a Super G specialist who missed a gate early in the downhill and didn't finish, was almost perfect today.
She said she had a little trouble at the top of the course, which also was used for the longer downhill race.
"I felt a little tight on my skis," Wolf said. "I was a little nervous. . . . But after the top, I had a great run."
For good luck, a friend had given Wolf a necklace with a gold safety pin hanging on it. Wolf wore it as she raced. For her, it had special meaning.
Five weeks ago in a World Cup race in Lech, Austria, Wolf won the Super G but had her victory taken away and was disqualified. Her offense? She stuck a safety pin on her numbered race bib so it wouldn't flap in the wind as she raced. Three teammates did it, too; they also were disqualified.
The West Germans complained to race officials that the Austrians cut down on wind resistance by using safety pins, and race officials agreed. The disqualification might end up costing Wolf the World Cup Super G title.
"We just laughed about it," Thys said. "It was so ridiculous. It was pretty much a kick in the face to the Austrians. But it has all worked out for them."
The "Big Safety Pin Scandal," as Thys called it, was not a joke in Austria. This is the nation of Karl Schranz and Franz Klammer, both world-famous skiers, the latter the 1976 gold medalist in the men's downhill. Klammer was under intense pressure to win that race as the home favorite at the Innsbruck Olympics. When he did, he became a hero for life.
When the safety pin scandal broke, there were rumors that Austrian ski team coach Andreas Rauch might lose his job. He didn't, and today he was standing near the finish, smiling broadly.
So was Austrian Anita Wachter, the gold medalist in the Alpine combined event Sunday who finished fifth today.
She said she spoke with Wolf before the race and noticed how confident Wolf was.
"Her gold medal made me feel strong," Wolf said.
"Maybe too much was made of the Swiss," Wachter said. "Everyone expected the Swiss to win most of the medals."
There are four races left here -- men's and women's slaloms and giant slaloms. And the Austrians realize that no matter what they prove to the world, the people they most need to please are the ones back home.
"They always talk about Klammer," Wachter said. "Now, I would think they are talking about Klammer and about 1988."