The government of Yugoslavia isn't all that was cast off in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana lately. On a turbulent river just outside the strife-torn city, a 10-year U.S. stranglehold on world whitewater slalom canoeing was broken.
Results from the biennial World Whitewater Championships were overshadowed by Slovenia's independence declaration last week and subsequent battles with Yugoslav soldiers. But the news is official: Defending world canoe champion Jon Lugbill of Bethesda has been dethroned.
Lugbill, gold medalist in five of the last six world championships, was only fourth-fastest through the gates on June 21 on the roaring Sava River at Tacen, a few kilometers north of Ljubljana. German Martin Lang took the gold with U.S. newcomer Adam Clawson second and France's Jacky Avril third.
Lugbill's finish out of the medals, along with longtime training partner David Hearn's 17th-place finish, marks the first time since 1977 that the pair hasn't finished 1-2 in the worlds.
Lugbill and Clawson boosted U.S. spirits later by teaming with Jed Prentice for a gold medal in the slalom team event, and teammate Dana Chladek, also of Bethesda, took a silver in women's kayak. But overall, it was a disappointing showing in paddling's top event for the perennially powerful U.S. slalom team.
The results in men's canoe were particularly distressing, since whitewater slalom will be included at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona for the first time in 20 years. Lugbill and Hearn have long been considered the ones to beat.
Phone communications with the paddlers since racing ended have been fitful, but U.S. whitewater team manager Caroline Klam wrote home to son Peter that conditions on the Sava were difficult and the outcome was not necessarily representative.
"I don't think the results here reflect either skill or ability," she wrote. "There was simply too much of an element of luck in who got the good boils in the tough gates."
Still, Klam said she'd overheard Hearn telling his teammates after the races, "It's a hell of a way to fall off the pedestal."
The U.S. team went directly from Ljubljana to Mezzana, Italy, for World Cup racing, avoiding the bloodshed as Yugoslav troops moved in to confront the Slovenian militia last week. But one race official and veteran Washington area paddler, Jean Goertner, who works at the Naval Surface Weapons Research Lab in Silver Spring, stayed to witness the historic changes.
"It's the only time I've ever gone from one country to another without taking a step," she said. "Tuesday night at 11:59 I was in Yugoslavia; then at midnight I was in Slovenia."
Goertner and her longtime companion Dick Bridge, whose son Andy was the top U.S. wildwater canoeist with a fifth-place finish June 15, drove from Slovenia to Austria on Thursday, just as the fighting began.
She said the historic step to independence never affected the competition. "The races went off without a hitch. No one expected a military problem," said Goertner, though some foreign corporate sponsors of organizational and social events backed out at the last minute for fear of trouble.
"I asked my hosts, 'What's going to happen?' " Goertner said, "and they both said, 'Nothing,' that the Yugoslav government wouldn't react. Obviously, they miscalculated."
Goertner, a judge at both the wildwater Worlds at Bovec in western Slovenia and at the slalom Worlds in Tacen outside Ljubljana, said all U.S. paddlers were safely in Italy by Tuesday night when church bells in the town she was staying in pealed for an hour to signal the arrival of independence.
By the time she and Bridge crossed the border into Austria, Yugoslav government troops were moving in for the bloody confrontations that continued through the weekend.
"I guess we got out just in time," she said. "But I'm really sad for the Slovenian people. These are great, hard-working people and they deserve better.
"The first comment we get from people," said Goertner, who returned to work Monday, "is, 'We're sure glad to see you out.' But the truth is we never felt threatened."
As for the racing, Goertner said, "Clean was the name of the game and we weren't." She said Lugbill hit three gates on his first run, incurring 15 seconds in penalties, and then hit one gate for a five-second penalty his second time down the course.
Goertner said gate judges on the upper stretch of the course told her the first three gates were extremely hard for lefthanded paddlers to negotiate. She said Lugbill, Hearn and longtime training partner Prentice, who was eighth, all paddle on the left side.
Results from last weekend's World Cup races at Mezzana showed improved U.S. performances as Lugbill, Hearn and Prentice placed second, fourth and sixth, respectively, in men's canoe; Chladek took another silver in women's kayak and Joe Jacobi and Scott Strasbaugh took third in two-man canoe.
Men's canoe: 1, Martin Lang, Germany; 2, Adam Clawson, U.S.; 3, Jacky Avril, France.
Men's kayak: 1, Marjan Strukelj, Yugoslavia; 2, Horst Poch, Austria; 3, Pierpaolo Parazzi, Italy.
Women's kayak: 1, Elizabeth Michler, Germany; 2, Dana Chladek, U.S.; 3, Kordula Striepecke, Germany.
Two-man canoe: 1, Adisson/Forgues, France; 2, Siemek/Rohan, Czechoslovakia; 3, Saidi/Delray, France.