Diann Roffe, a Lillehammer legend
An Olympic silver medallist in the giant slalom at Albertville 1992, Diann Roffe scraped into the US team for Lillehammer 1994 and then surprised everyone by winning super-G gold.
A joint silver medallist in the giant slalom at Albertville 1992, Diann Roffe was 27 when she set about the task of qualifying for the Lillehammer Games two years later, one made all the harder by the fact that she was having trouble adapting to the shape and size of the latest generation of skis. Following a string of poor results during the 1993/94 season, she had one last chance to book her place for Lillehammer 1994, in a World Cup super-G event at Sierra Nevada (ESP), held just nine days before the Games. Though she came in a lowly 19th and was certain that her chances of making the US team had evaporated, the US selectors had seen something they liked and included her in the roster for Lillehammer. “Though I had given up all hope, I skied to a 3rd fastest split time in the technical part of the course,” said Roffe, recalling her unexpected reprieve.
A little over a week later Roffe stood atop the Olympiabakken in Kvitfjell wearing the No1 bib. The first skier to plunge down the course, she kept her turns tight and picked up pace on a flawless run, impressing everyone, including American TV commentator Tim Ryan. Somewhat nonplussed by her surprise performance, he exclaimed on air: “Her best result this season was a nineteenth place in super G!”
“He was right, but that was my day to shine,” retorted Roffe, who stopped the clock at 1:22.15 and watched as the rest the field tried and failed to beat her. Russia’s Svetlana Gladishiva came closest, crossing the line 0.29 seconds adrift, while Italy’s Isolde Kostner came home third, with the rest of the pre-race favourites all over half a second off the pace. Roffe’s Lillehammer triumph was the biggest win of career, which she called to an end later that season.
Rising to the occasion
Born in Warsaw, in New York State, Roffe learned to ski at a small resort nearby and went on to develop a knack for winning big races. She was a mere 17-year-old when she won giant slalom gold at the 1985 FIS World Championships in Bormio, taking the title by 0.6 seconds from Austria’s Elisabeth Kirchler. Her first Olympics appearance came at Calgary 1988, where she placed 12th in the GS and 15th in the slalom. During the course of a career punctuated by injuries, the American scored eight podium finishes in the World Cup, two of them wins, and shared a silver medal with Austria’s Anita Wachter in the giant slalom at Albertville 1992, the pair finishing 0.97 seconds behind Pernilla Wiberg of Sweden. Roffe retired shortly after her Lillehammer success, going out on a high with victory in a super-G race at Vail (USA) on 17 March 1994.