Winter Olympics: Near-perfect Wiberg

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The Independent Online
PERNILLA WIBERG finally stopped the rot for the Swedes and made at least a small dent in the overwhelming superiority of their rivals, Norway, in the chase for medals yesterday.

Besides putting an end, perhaps, to the digs at Sweden which appear almost daily in the two Oslo tabloids, the victory gave Wiberg her second Olympic gold medal, with her 1992 giant slalom title still to defend on Thursday.

Before Wiberg's win in the women's alpine combined, Sweden - habitually referred to as 'the sausages' in the Norwegian vernacular - had had to put up with newspaper headlines last week such as 'Sweden like Fiji - no medals yet'. By the start of the second week of competition yesterday, Norway had 16 medals, with eight golds.

That was before the 23-year-old Wiberg produced two nearly perfect slalom runs to add to a respectable fifth place in Sunday's downhill portion of the event. She took overall victory with a time of 3min 05.16sec. The Olympic hosts, formerly under Swedish rule before independence early this century, will have to show at least a modicum of Olympic respect for the former mother country, at least until Sunday's closing ceremonies.

Pressure had been building on Wiberg during the Games, but she tried to shrug it off. 'I have been trying not to think of the pressure,' she said. 'I'm here for myself. It's nice to hear that the Swedes are happy, but you cannot take all of their pressure on your shoulders - that would knock you down on the floor.

'I really appreciate this medal,' she added. 'I hope that other Swedes can go for it. I heard on the radio that the king and queen were here. I thought that I must show them that Sweden can take medals.'

There was also some good news for Switzerland, a nation in decline as a force in Alpine sport, with the silver-medal performance of the veteran, Vreni Schneider. Despite her distaste for the downhill, the 29- year-old finished with a combined time of 3:05.29, 0.13sec behind Wiberg. Like the Swede, Schneider is an Olympic champion, winning slalom and giant slalom gold medals in 1988 at Calgary. In third place, Alenka Dovzan, aged 18 and a skier for only seven years, took Slovenia's first Winter Olympics medal.