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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Roffe: One Skier Who Rises to the Occasion

KVITFJELL, Norway -- For some people, the Olympic Games just rise up and seize by the throat. Good people. Fast people. Does the name Dan Jansen mean anything to you? Or Duncan Kennedy? For others, the enormity of the Games is a weapon. Where others fail, they fly.


So late Tuesday morning, in brilliant sunshine and deadening cold, an American skier named Diann Roffe-Steinrotter waited at the top of a mountain, outside the start house of the women's Super-G race. She was wracked with nerves, dry heaving in the snow before stepping into her bindings.


Roffe, 26, was given little chance of winning a medal in the race, much less winning it. She had won a silver in giant slalom at Albertville in 1992, but nothing since. "She's been down and out, basically, for two years," said U.S. women's coach Paul Major.


She has been on the World Cup circuit for 11 long years -- "The suitcases have been many, many places for many, many years," she said Tuesday. She is the only married member of the U.S. women's team, with little left in common with much younger teammates who talk in beachspeak, so Roffe will retire at the end of the season. Quietly, it seemed. And with only old victories to take home to Potsdam, New York.


Except that Roffe is one of those rare people for whom a larger stage is nothing but a moment, begging to be taken. The same emotions that paralyze others with their enormity make her larger.


"The funny thing about the Olympics," she said, "is that it's one day, one hill, one and a half minutes. Whoever shakes and bakes the best is going to get a gold medal. And it doesn't matter if you're a favorite or not."


It defies logic that scarcely two hours after she stood retching in the chill, Roffe was hoisted to the shoulders of Major and U.S. trainer Richard Watkins, holding her skis and her victory bouquet aloft, winner of the United States' second gold medal in as many alpine events. She was first from the house and finished in 1:22.15, three-tenths of a second in front of silver medalist Svetlana Gladishceva of Russia.


But it also makes perfect sense. "What it really boils down to are the Games," Roffe said. "You pre-think the run and have ideas about what you want to do ... " She paused. "I knew I didn't want to be fourth and I knew I didn't want to be fifth or sixth. Relax and you're on the second page (of the results). At the Olympic Games, if you don't risk everything, you won't be there."


Roffe is already one of the best big-event skiers in U.S. history, with a World Cup gold at the age of 17 and now, by becoming the first U.S. women's skier to win medals in consecutive Olympics.


What is both remarkable -- and fitting -- about Roffe's victory is that she randomly drew the No. 1 starting spot (the top 15 skiers in the World Cup Super-G standings select spots, the rest draw blindly; Roffe wasn't near the top 15).


And there also was the memory of 26-year-old Austrian Ulrike Maier, who was killed Jan. 29 during a downhill race at Garmisch, Germany. "I thought about her last night and I thought about her this morning," Roffe said. "What came into my head was that she was a fighter. ... I thought, 'If she's up there looking down, and she knows she can't race, she would be telling every competitor to point 'em down the hill and give it your best shot.'"