Winter Olympics: Moe beats Aamodt to gold medal: Reformed Alaskan's downhill success takes Norwegian favourite by surprise

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The Independent Online
TOMMY MOE, an American who had never won a World Cup race, dashed all the Olympic predictions yesterday by earning an unexpected gold medal in the men's downhill, at Kvitfjell, by a narrow margin over the favourite from Norway, Kjetil Andre Aamodt.

An enthusiastic crowd of more than 40,000 waved their Norwegian flags in vain for Aamodt, whose time of 1min 45.79sec was bettered by 0.04sec by Moe, the 24-year-old from Palmer, Alaska, who started No 8 to Aamodt's No 7 and stole the glory from the Scandinavian less than two minutes after Norway had been celebrating.

Aamodt, a major contender in the remaining Alpine programme, shrugged off his disappointment. Asked where he lost the vital four- hundredths of a second, the Norwegian said: 'One at the top, two in the middle and one at the bottom. Perhaps I should have shaved today.'

Moe became the first American since Billy Johnson a decade ago in Sarajevo to earn the Olympic downhill title. But while the brash Johnson called his own shots in 1984 by predicting he would win the gold, Moe's victory was a big surprise.

'The big secret was focusing on the day,' said the winner, who has Scandinavian connections on both his mother's and father's side of the family. 'This was a big day for all of us and everyone was a little nervous. I just tried to stay relaxed and ski well. My goal was a top-six placing. Anything else was a bonus.'

Moe began skiing at the age of four in Alaska and proved himself with a pair of gold medals at the World Junior Championships in 1989, in Alaska. His big breakthrough came last season with a fifth place in the World Championships in Morioka, Japan.

Moe is something of a reformed character, having twice been thrown off ski teams as a teenager for smoking marijuana. 'I wasn't the smartest being, just a normal American kid,' Moe, who turns 24 on Thursday, said.

'I got involved in a lot of things and I wasn't the best student. But I've paid my dues. I learned my lesson the hard way and I think it's made me tougher.'

The tipsters' favourite, the defending champion, Patrick Ortlieb, had the bronze medal snatched away from him on the 3.05km Olympibakken piste, which was bathed in weak sunlight for the blue riband event of the opening Olympic weekend. The Austrian could not repeat his 1992 triumph at Val d'Isere and was pushed into fourth place by the Canadian Edward Podivinsky, the winner of a World Cup event at Saalbach last month.

Marc Girardelli finished fifth after holding the lead until Aamodt raced. It was only recently that the five-times World Cup holder began to take his chances seriously.

There was bitter disappointment for the veteran Swiss, Franz Heinzer. The 31-year-old, sixth in the Games two years ago and the 1991 world champion, ended what is likely to be his final big event in an embarrassing way.

Just a second after his push-off from the start house, Heinzer's right ski binding released, leaving him standing just metres from where he had started and beating the snow in utter frustration with his poles. 'It just broke,' he said. 'What can I say, I don't understand it. I've been using this brand for 15 years.'

Another casualty was Cary Mullen, of Canada. He went out of control during his run, spun 180 degrees and was stopped by a crash- control fence. The racer walked away disappointed but uninjured, causing a five-minute delay before Aamodt was allowed to start.

Aamodt said it had not affected him an he still has hopes of a gold medal in the remaining Alpine disciplines. 'The delay after Mullen went out did not bother me,' the Norwegian said. 'I was totally relaxed at the start. My run was the absolute best that I could do. This is still a good start for me at the Games. I'll do what I can to take the gold that I want here.'

British results were modest, as expected. Graham Bell placed 26th with 1:47.39. His brother, Martin, was timed at 1:47.49 for 28th. Graham had rested a swollen knee on Saturday. Martin said: 'This was the first time in four Olympics that Graham has beaten me. I am disappointed with my run, I did poorly on the jump and lost time.'

(Photograph omitted)

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