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Canada, U.S. a stunning 1-2 in downhill

The crowd was suddenly quiet. Not a cowbell rang. Not a chant could be heard. Not a flag was raised.

Two North Americans had roared down the mountain, and, for one improbable race, they extinguished the Olympic Alpine flame of the European community.

"It was like a team from Tokyo came to the U.S. and won the World Series," said Paul Major, the American women's downhill coach.

First came Kerrin Lee-Gartner, a 25-year-old from Calgary, Alberta, who said she might leave skiing soon to start a family.

Not much later came Hilary Lindh, a 22-year-old from Juneau, Alaska, who several times has been close to leaving the sport to go to college. Neither had ever finished better than sixth in a World Cup downhill.

Saturday, both beat the world's best downhillers, including Austria's golden girl Petra Kronberger, when it counted most.

Gartner won Canada's first Alpine gold since Kathy Kreiner's in giant slalom in 1976.

Lindh, the silver medalist, captured the first U.S. Alpine medal since 1984, and she is the first American woman to win a medal in the downhill since Cindy Nelson's bronze in 1976.

The usual lineup of European favorites watched incredulously as these two North Americans roared across the finish line.

Gartner finished in 1 minute, 52.55 seconds, Lindh in 1:52.61 and Austrian bronze medalist Veronika Wallinger in 1:52.64. Eighteen hundredths of a second separated the top five.

"This is definitely a boost for North American skiers," said Lindh, who suffered a knee injury in 1987 and was given a 50-50 chance of competing again. "The Europeans aren't too happy, and we're all pretty pumped up."

Cold war-like antagonists these sides are not, but none of the Americans and Canadians could contain their pleasure over this North American double. When told that several of the European skiers had complained about foggy, soft snow conditions and suggested skies had brightened for the North Americans' runs, Major smirked and said: "Cry me a river."

There was no reason to think this race would be anything other than an extension of European dominance. The 10th skier down, World Cup downhill leader Katja Seizinger of Germany, posted a time of 1:52.67, more than a full second into the lead.

Next came Kronberger, the favorite, winner of the combined, with the potential to win a medal in all five Alpine events. When Kronberger crossed 0.06 seconds behind Seizinger, the question appeared to be who would finish third.

Major dismissed the suggestion that visibility improved and the course became faster for Gartner and Lindh: "The times got faster because the better skiers weren't at the top."

U.S. medals update

Athlete Medal Event

Bonnie Blair Gold 500m speed skating

Bonnie Blair Gold 1,000m speed skating

Donna Weinbrecht Gold Freestyle moguls

Hilary Lindh Silver Downhill skiing

Paul Wylie Silver Figure skating

Nelson Carmichael Bronze Freestyle moguls