MOUNT ALLAN, ALBERTA, FEB. 26 -- Vreni Schneider rescued the honor of Switzerland today when she became the first double gold medalist of the Winter Olympic Alpine events with a victory in the women's slalom.
But Tamara McKinney relegated the United States to another footnote when she abandoned the course for the second time in as many races.
Schneider made the staccato course at Nakiska look like a straight line. With stylish, almost effortless turns, she won both heats on the 63-gate course with a combined time of 1:36.69. She scored the largest margin of victory in the Olympic slalom in 28 years.
Yugoslavia's Mateja Svet, who won the silver, had a combined time of 1:38.37. West Germany's Christa Kinshofer-Guetlein won the bronze when Camilla Nilsson of Sweden fell on her second run to give up third place.
Schneider had conquered the giant slalom on Wednesday to give the Swiss women only their first gold medal, a shocking state of affairs for a team that boasts stars like Michela Figini, who is tied with Schneider for the World Cup overall lead, and famed veteran Maria Walliser.
"I don't think I was in a shadow, but I don't think I was number one either," Schneider said.
But her two medals prevented a real embarrassment for the Swiss by an Austrian team that was not expected to do nearly as well. At one point they had two golds to none for Switzerland, Sigrid Wolf's in the super giant slalom and Anita Wachter's in the combined.
With the women's events concluded, the Swiss leave with two gold, three silver and a bronze, while the Austrians have just their two gold. Figini departed with just her one silver in the super giant slalom and a ninth place in the downhill, which she was favored to win, but instead went to surprising Marina Kiehl of West Germany. Walliser left with two bronzes, in the combined event and the giant slalom.
But no team leaves as disappointed as the American women, who suffered six injuries before they even got here, then lost downhill hope Pam Fletcher to a broken leg during a training run the day before the race. Under those circumstances not much could be expected from a young team that might be termed third string.
Their best finish was a ninth place for Edith Thys in the super giant slalom. In 20 U.S women starts, once they did not make it to the start (Fletcher) and six times they did not make it to the finish. Thys was the only skier in the top 10 of an event, although Beth Madsen approached that today with her 11th-place finish.
It was hoped, against all reason, that McKinney might be able to make up for that in her specialities, the giant slalom and slalom. But she had broken a fibula in her left ankle in November, and could not ski again until the first of the year. Her intensive rehabilitation and training ranged from a stationary bicycle to skiing on one leg, but could not make her ready in time.
McKinney spun off course on the 30th gate of her first heat, straddling a pole. In the giant slalom, she had missed on just the third gate.
"I guess if breaking a fibula was good training for an Olympics, there would be people lining up with crowbars," said McKinney, the overall 1983 World Cup champion.
As McKinney slid off the course in resignation, her only consolation was that some other medal calibre skiers also did not make it through the first run, among them Wachter, and Karen Percy, the two-time bronze medalist from Canada.
"You might have to censor my first thought," she said. "There aren't always words to describe that feeling. It was a depth I had to feel. It didn't work out. It's not the end of the world."
McKinney's drama was just one episode in a fairly tense competition. First down the hill on the second heat was Kinshofer-Guetlein, a resurgent presence who won a 1980 silver in the slalom. Her second heat briefly put her in first place.
Svet, who is seventh in World Cup points but had been denied a medal until today, also had an impressive second heat. "I didn't want to think on the medals," Svet said. "It was my last chance."
Then came Nilsson. But she wrecked on a gate about halfway down, screaming in anger. Schneider was to ski next, and when the signal to start came sooner than she expected, she knew Nilsson had fallen.
With just one event remaining, the men's slalom on Saturday, Switzerland still leads the overall Alpine medal race by a considerable margin. The Swiss now have 11 total medals to six for the Austrians.