Retirement talk works wonders for Dorfmeister

But Britain's only Alpine skier at these Olympics produced another respectable performance in yesterday's super-giant slalom, where she managed a top-20 finish - 19th, to be precise - following her 11th place in the women's downhill.

It was a good day on the slopes for Austria as Michaela Dorfmeister added another gold to the one she had won in the downhill, and her compatriot Benjamin Raich was also victorious in a giant slalom that saw fellow Austrian Hermann Maier add bronze to the silver he had won in the previous day's super-giant slalom.

Only two months ago Dorfmeister announced that she intended to retire at the end of this season because she was feeling too much pressure. The tactic had the effect of allowing her to enjoy her skiing in a way she had never previously managed, and now she has a reward which has more than effaced her previous unhappy memory of the Olympics, when she was beaten to the super-giant slalom title in 1998 by one hundredth of a second.

"I was like a horse in a box before the race," said Dorfmeister, who finished 0.27sec ahead of the defending champion, Croatia's Janica Kostelic. "Now I go home from these Olympics with two medals, and they are both gold."

Raich, too, has known more than his share of disappointment in the Olympic arena, to the point where some questioned whether he had it in him to win. Even at these Games the 25-year-old appeared destined for more let-downs as he straddled a gate in the second leg of the combined downhill when only seconds from victory, and managed only 21st place in the super-giant slalom.

"I have big stones rolling off my heart. I am speechless, overjoyed," said Raich, who collapsed with relief when Francois Bourque of Canada, who posted the fastest time in the first leg, dropped to fourth, 0.92sec behind, after a conservative second run. 'The Olympic victory was my greatest goal. The failure in the combination and in the super-G did not affect me in any way, because I do not have to prove to anybody any more that I know ski racing."

Thus Austria can afford to feel a little more comfortable with its record at these Games. But for the United States' skiers, whom many expected to challenge Alpine skiing's perennial superpower, these Olympics have been deeply disappointing. So disappointed was Miller, who had arrived here with supposed gold medal chances in four events, that he stalked away from yesterday's race without speaking to the media after finishing sixth.

His colleague Erik Schlopy, who was 13th, attempted to speak up for the mysterious "Man In The Camper Van". "I think Bode's talked a lot to the media, maybe more than he should have, and I think he's trying to balance it all out and figure it out," Schlopy ventured. "He's always looking for the limits, whether it's in ski racing or dealing with the media."

At least Miller finished. His colleague Daron Rahlves, whose Olympics have gone back-wards since he was first in the last downhill training race, failed to negotiate the first of the two scheduled runs.

"This is hard to swallow," said Rahlves, for whom these will be the last Olympics. "It's not the way I wanted it to end. If you win a gold medal at the Olympics it doesn't matter what else you've done. I definitely wanted to walk away from here on top."

Although Ted Ligety won a gold for the United States in the combined downhill, Rahlves described the team's overall skiing performance here as, "woulda, shoulda, coulda - all that stuff. It sucks - we definitely came up very short."

Maier, whose Olympic preparations were affected by illness, was just a little wistful after finishing third.

"I was very, very close to the victory and this makes me a little sad," said the double gold medallist of 1998. "Bronze is not bad, but the luck has not been with me. Others have been super-fit while I had the flu."

Asked about his intentions of going on to the next Olympics in Vancouver, Maier said: "I don't know at the moment. Everyone's looking - maybe I will race at the Summer Olympics in the 100 metres..."

Italian prosecutors found more than 100 syringes and 30 packs of drugs, including asthma drugs and anti-depressants, in a raid on the Austrian bases, an Italian prosecutor announced yesterday. They also seized devices for blood testing and blood transfusions in the raid on Saturday on the country's biathlon and cross-country teams.

The Austrian biathlon coach Walter Mayer, barred from the Games, has been admitted to a psychiatric hospital. After an incident on Sunday, he was charged with causing civil disorder, damage to property and assault.

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