Saturday, February 9, 2002 Updated: February 25, 1:47 AM ET
Bahrke wins surprising silver; Hardaway struggles
PARK CITY, Utah -- American moguls skier Shannon Bahrke was
quite a sight at the top of the mountain -- the glitter sparkling
around her eyes, the relaxed smile painted on her face.
Norwegian Kari Traa skied the course last, and easily beat American Shannon Bahrke.
She wasn't bad once she pushed away from the starting gate,
Bahrke gave her rowdy family and all of America a moment to
remember Saturday. Only the spectacular Kari Traa of Norway kept it
from being golden.
Bahrke won the silver in freestyle moguls to earn the distinct
honor of winning the first medal for the United States at the
Olympics on home turf. Tae Satoya of Japan, who won gold in 1998 in
her home country, took the bronze this time.
"It's a huge honor," Bahrke said. "Once it's over, when I'm
home seeing other athletes up there on the podium, that's probably
when it will hit me."
Before that, there was a celebration on tap, and Bahrke had
plenty of people around to make it a good one.
A few dozen of her friends and family -- the Bahrke Brigade --
ringed the area at the bottom of the hill. They all wore bright
red, white and blue hats with the words "Go Shannon" embroidered
Her grandparents saw her ski in person for the first time. Her
father, Dick, was in tears when it was all over.
"It's just an amazing feeling," Bahrke said. "My family
standing back behind me. It's something you can't put into words,
to see the smile on your dad's face while the tears are rolling
down his cheeks."
But clearly, this was more than a family affair.
Bahrke won the first of 20 medals the Americans are hoping for
in these Winter Olympics. She did it in the afterglow of an
emotional opening ceremony in which American patriotism, and
memories of Sept. 11, were brought back into sharp focus.
"We met people from the New York Fire Department and the police
department," she said of her experience Friday night. "I think
that gave me a little extra fire. Now that I have the first medal,
that makes me very proud. I hope all the other athletes in all the
other sports can continue that."
In so many ways, Bahrke's story is what the Olympics are
supposed to be all about -- overcoming obstacles, and coming up with
the performance of a lifetime on the world's grandest stage.
Nearly three years ago, she almost died from a virulent staph
infection. She lost 20 pounds. For a time, she could barely walk.
Her doctors told her she would never ski the same way again. She
recovered, got stronger and gained perspective, and the whole thing
came together on the most perfect of days.
"It made me take every day and look at it in a different way,"
Bahrke said. "It makes you realize that your body is so
Nearly lost in the Bahrkemania was a disappointing fifth-place
finish by the American favorite, Hannah Hardaway.
Struggling with back problems the last several months, Hardaway
took a bad approach to the first jump and had to settle for a
single helicopter spin. Her second jump was a more difficult
double-twister spread, but she landed with a thud -- not good enough
to win a medal on this day.
"I pretty much did everything wrong," Hardaway said.
Teammate Ann Battelle finished seventh in this, her fourth
Olympics. American Jillian Vogtli failed to qualify for the finals.
Bahrke, meanwhile, was nearly flawless, whipping her way through
the bumps and making the smooth transitions from the heights of her
daring jumps back to the hard-packed snow.
She performed a helicopter iron cross for one of her jumps -- a
full revolution with the tips of the skis crossed, all the while
looking straight back toward the top of the hill.
When it was over, Bahrke went crazy, shaking her head, pumping
her fists in rapid succession and wiggling her body back and forth.
The glitter on her face, she said, wasn't for good luck, but
rather a thing she and American teammate Emiko Torito do to "be
And that long smile at the top of the run: "I just felt it was
my time to do well and I had to relax. And the only way I know how
to do that is to smile," she said
After the run came the wait.
Four skiers were left, including Hardaway and Battelle, and each
time Bahrke saw a score lower than hers, she breathed deep, not
quite believing she might win the whole thing.
But with Traa at the top of the mountain, no lead is ever safe.
Bahrke knew there was no sense in rooting for the Norwegian to slip
"She's the best in the world and she has proven it time and
time and time and time again," Bahrke said. "It makes me happy to
be on the same podium with her."
Traa won for the sixth time in seven events this season.
She climbed to the top of this sport about two years ago, an
ascent that began when she lost 20 pounds after swearing off
"I said to myself, I've got to stop, so I stopped eating
chocolate and I stopped putting butter on my bread," she said.
"My coach said he saw a big difference. He said my landings were
better and I was much quicker. It helped."
Unlike Bahrke, Traa didn't have any family waiting for her at
the finish line. She did, however, get a hug from the crown prince
of Norway -- not a bad trade-off.
She was happy to have come through for a country that expects
nothing but the best from her.
"I normally ski well under pressure," Traa said. "I love that
feeling up top, when I know people are expecting things from me."
Traa beat Bahrke by .88 points -- a pretty big margin in this
sport -- with a run she called merely "OK." After crossing the
finish line, she simply skied off to the side, without raising a
hand in celebration.
"It was still good enough to win the gold medal," Bahrke said.
Satoya couldn't match the emotional level of 1998, when she
skied in her home country on the heels of her father's death.
Still, she was happy to get back to the medals stand.
"This time, I told my father I'd try to do my best, and I think
I did my best," she said.