PARK CITY, Utah -- Competing with gold and silver glitter on her cheeks and eyebrows, Shannon Bahrke gave America its first medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics on Saturday.
Admittedly a little slow on her "helis," Bahrke claimed the silver medal in women's moguls, a freestyle skiing event. The gold went to Norway's Kari Traa, the dominant figure on the World Cup circuit this season who has provided the sport with another kind of bump with a controversial photo spread in a Norwegian magazine.
In moguls, skiers negotiate a steep course with bumps or moguls. Places are determined by both speed and style points awarded by judges based on the skier's style and two mandatory jumps.
Bahrke of Tahoe, Calif., overcame a staph infection two years ago.
"I learned how important life is," she said. "I had no expectations of getting on the podium."
With cheers from a predominately American crowd reverberating from stands to hillside at the Deer Valley Ski Resort, three U.S. athletes -- Bahrke, Hannah Hardaway and Ann Battelle -- finished among the top five in qualifying. In the finals, Hardaway finished fifth and Battelle seventh. Tae Stoya of Japan, the gold medalist two years ago at Nagano, took the bronze.
"To be the first American to win a medal at these Olympics is so special since Sept. 11," said Bahrke, wearing a red, white and blue striped ski cap to go with her glitter. "Last night (at the Opening Ceremonies), I got to meet the President and Lance Armstrong, my idol. It just gave me incentive."
Traa, who accepted a hug from the Crown Prince of Norway afterwards, has now won five of six World Cup events. She says the turning point in her career occurred when she gave up chocolate a couple of years ago.
"Our team went to southern Europe for a cup and before we got on a ferry, we bought a lot of cheap chocolate at the duty free," she said. "We ate for 15 hours. I didn't feel so good when I got to the competition.
"I decided to stop eating chocolate that Christmas."
"You didn't!" Bahrke interrupted at the news conference.
"I also stop eating butter on my bread," Traa added. "I lost 20 pounds and it's made a difference on my skis. It made me feel quicker."
The lost weight also prompted a small Norwegian magazine to ask Traa, who has classic Scandinavian hair and looks, to do an interview and photo spread.
"I didn't do it for the money because it is too small a magazine to pay for an interview," she said. "I did it to bring more attention to the sport. I thought the pictures were cool. Not everyone thought they were cool."
What kind of pictures?
"You can go see them somewhere," she replied with a sly smile. "Maybe I tell you later."
Bahrke also has been accused of occasionally overdoing things.
Her glitter is part of that extravagance. Her mother added another fashion statement. She knitted red, white and blue ski caps for her entire cheering sections of family and friends, which made up a large part of the crowd of 13,685. American supporters went wild when her run -- the next to last of the day because of her second-best qualifying time -- put her in first place.
"I might have gained some speed on my helis (two helicopter spins)," she said.
Traa was the only person capable of denying her gold and she took full advantage on the final run of the day, outpointing Bahkre on turns, air and speed.
"I knew Keri competes fantastically under pressure," Bahrke said. "She's proven she is the best in the world time and time again."
(David McCollum, sports columnist for the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway, Ark., is part of the Morris News Service team covering the Winter Olympics.)