Winter Olympics / Skiing: Wasmeier winds back the clock: German joy

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The Independent Online
THE soothing family touch may have been temporarily missing, but that did not stop the veteran German skier, Markus Wasmeier, from winding back the clock yesterday to earn the biggest title of his career, nine years after his breakthrough at the 1985 World Championships.

When he took the giant slalom crown in Bormio, Italy, almost a

decade ago, the blond Bavarian from Schliersee was a footloose, hell-bent racer with a thirst for speed. Now, at his third Olympics, he is an older, wiser, family man, but one who still knows how to leave his younger challengers trailing.

Wasmeier worked his magic once again yesterday with victory in the super-giant slalom, overcoming the unexpected absence of his wife, Brigitte, back in a Lillehammer hotel nursing the toothache of his eight- month-old son. The optimistic German shrugged off his 36th placing in last weekend's downhill and snatched the gold medal with 0.08sec to spare, ahead of the American, Tommy Moe, the unexpected winner of the downhill title last weekend.

The Alaskan was timed at 1min 32.61sec, ahead of the Norwegian, Kjetil Andre Aamodt. Nearly 40,000 fans packed the finish area, hoping for the first alpine home gold of the Games. Marc Girardelli, who dominates the World Cup but cannot seem to take titles in the big events, ended up in fourth place.

Wasmeier's legendary sunny disposition was in full flower after his triumph. 'I have everything in life, a wife and a baby - and now a gold medal,' the winner of six super-giant World Cup events said. 'I never got depressed after placing 36th in the downhill. I just forgot about that and looked ahead. That's what you must do to perform well.'

Moe celebrated a happy 24th birthday as the first American man to win two Olympic medals in the same competition. 'I'm happy for Marcus, he deserved it,' he said.

Aamodt, perhaps starting to feel the weight of Norwegian expectations, had little explanation for his bronze. With only three alpine events remaining, his victory chances are dwindling, though the 1992 Olympic super-G holder can still surprise in the giant slalom and has reasonable hopes in the combined event. 'A few small mistakes made all of the difference,' the 22- year-old from Oslo said. 'I knew that Markus had the ability to win, he's shown that all season. It's just too bad that we Norwegians do not have a gold medal yet in alpine.'

Both British entrants crashed out of the competition. Graham Bell straddled a gate near the top of the track, while newcomer Spenser Pessions, now based in Brighton, survived a spectacular fall uninjured. 'Super-G is like that,' Bell said. 'You have to attack and that's what I was doing. But I cut it a bit close.' Pessions, competing in his first major competition, was keen to make a good showing. 'I did not want to just come down the mountain,' he said.

Franz Heinzer, the Swiss downhill world champion in 1991, will retire at the end of the season because he no longer enjoys competitive skiing and the physical toll is too great.