February 10, 2006
SAUZE d'OULX, Italy (AP by Eddie Pells)—Shannon Bahrke moved to the bottom of the slope after her training run Friday and shouted a few times: "It's the Olympics! It's the Olympics!
The 25-year-old, a silver medalist in the 2002 Games, is acting nothing like a grizzled veteran as she approaches what could be her final shot at the Olympics, Saturday on the moguls course. Excited is more like it.
That's what happens when an athlete realizes that, fair or not, she's probably closer to the end of her career than the beginning. And that's how things go when she's seen her chances of competing at a top level nearly wiped away.
"I've been injured the last year and a half, so this is a new experience, she said. "I still can't believe I'm back again.
Bahrke had the honor of winning the first of a record 34 medals the Americans took in 2002. This year, women's moguls are on the first day of competition, but at night, so she's less likely to be the first American winner this time.
Still, after what she's been through, it's not medals on her mind as much as being able to make the trip back.
"It's going to be a great games, she said.
Two years ago, Bahrke broke her jaw when, at the bottom of a run, her face slammed into her ski pole during a crash. Last year, it was a more traditional injury _ to her knee _ that cost her the second half of that season.
She recovered in time to qualify for her second Olympics and now, she's seeing these games and this sport in a different light.
"I'm going to do what I want to do, and if they like it, they like it, and if they don't, they don't, she said after finishing second at the Olympic trials in December.
Bahrke is one of four American women on the roster.[pagebreak]Hannah Kearney, the winner of last year's World Championships, is largely considered the best U.S. moguls skier. Michelle Roark, the only of the four women to take a day off from training Friday, won a pair of World Cup events last month. Jillian Vogtli, who at 32 is seven years older than Bahrke, earned her first top-three finish of the season at Lake Placid on Jan. 22. That put her on the team on the last possible day to qualify.
"I knew what I had to do, she said. "A teammate of mine who had gone before me (Shelly Robertson) was in the lead, but she wasn't really expected to make the team, so I knew I had to beat her. I stood at the top in the gate and I said 'you can't have it' and I got what I wanted.
In 2002, the American freestyle team won three silver medals in four events _ men's and women's moguls and aerials. This year's skiers are considered stronger and deeper than that, and coach Jeff Wintersteen figures if the women can win one medal Saturday, surpassing the last Olympics is doable.
"I'm optimistic, Wintersteen said. "It's easy to be optimistic when you're a year out, 18 months out. But with the group we've got here, they're still skiing great right up to the Olympics, so I'm still feeling good about it.
The men, featuring Jeremy Bloom, go next Wednesday and aerials start Feb. 19.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press