Originally created 02/16/02

One Olympic race to go from troubled American skier



SNOWBASIN, Utah -- Caroline Lalive didn't want to talk to anybody. She just wanted to get away from Snowbasin - fast.

When Lalive fell near the end of her first slalom run in the women's combined event Thursday, then withdrew from the competition, it was the seventh consecutive time she had failed to finish a race in a world championships or Olympics.

The best all-around female skier on the U.S. team has just one Olympic race - Sunday's super giant slalom - to erase the stigma of falling apart when the stakes are highest.

The awful streak began at the 1999 world championships, and continued through the 2001 worlds, then she made it six in a row when she crashed in the Olympic downhill at Snowbasin on Tuesday.

One of the most popular and likable skiers in World Cup got back on her skies and finished the slalom run Thursday, but she was 29th out of 30 racers in the standings. With no chance for a medal in what was supposed to be her best event, she decided to pull out.

Now the U.S. coaches are trying to bolster her confidence heading into her final Olympic chance.

"This is where we come in the most," said U.S. women's coach Marjan Cernigoj. "She's so tough on herself, and we try from our side to make her believe that she is a good skier and a good racer and everything else."

He said he would give her Friday off, then she would be back on the training slopes on Saturday.

Lalive, 22, from Steamboat Springs, Colo., has been a skier since she could barely walk. Her father is Swiss, and she has duel citizenship.

She is the only U.S. woman to score World Cup points in all five disciplines. She finished seventh in the combined at the Nagano Olympics. Yet injuries and mishaps have plagued her since.

Last May, she broke her left wrist in a mountain bike crash near Moab, Utah, and that cost her precious summer training time.

At her World Cup debut at Copper Mountain, Colo., last November, she failed to qualify for the second slalom run in the first event, then got bopped in the face by a gate and skied off the course in the first slalom run the next day.

Sporting a black eye from the run-in with a gate, she regrouped a week later to finish third in a Super G at Lake Louise, Alberta, her first podium finish in an event other than the combined.

"I've kind of been struggling and it's such a nice feeling to have that little breakthrough," she said at the time. "It's not so much that you doubt yourself, but you start to beat your head against the wall."

One by one, European skiers came up for a congratulations hug for the young woman everyone knows as "Liner."

"She's the best person in the world," said her 17-year-old teammate Lindsey Kildow, who finished a surprising sixth in Thursday's combined.

Thursday's results led Cernigoj to name Kildow to the open fourth U.S. berth in next Wednesday's women's slalom in Park City. Lalive had been a leading candidate for that berth going into the games.

"We decided to just see how the girls perform and how their energy is," Cernigoj said. "Lindsey showed she still has a lot of energy. She had an incredible slalom run in the first run of the combined, so she earned that spot."

Cernigoj insists that Kildow's problems are technical, not mental, especially in the slalom. Because of her lack of summer training, she's a better speed skier than slalom skier now, he said.

"She does have a lot of bad luck, but she will overcome that," the coach said.

He admits, though, that bolstering her spirits is his big job now.

"We'll try everything to get her confidence back. She knows how to ski," he said.

Since she is still young and has so much talent, there is no chance that her problems are temporary, and won't endanger her long-term career.

"She's a great skier," he said. "There's no doubt in anybody's mind. She just has to finish. When she finishes, she's fast."