Alpine Skiing - All downhill for Kiehl
In the run-up to the Calgary Games, it looked as if Marina Kiehl wouldn't even be selected for the German team, but she produced some fine results in early 1988 to seal her place.
Her main focus was the super-G, which she regarded as her strongest event. But even by the time she arrived her recent patchy form meant that she wasn’t guaranteed a starting slot. Officials from the German team set her a target: if she could finish in the top six in the downhill, then she was guaranteed a starting place in the super-G.
Kiehl rose to the occasion in spectacular style. Downhill had never been her strongest suit, but here she decided to throw everything she had into her descent.
The competition was delayed by a day because of bad weather, and the early lead swapped hands between Switzerland’s Maria Walliser and Canadian Karen Percy. Kiehl was the eighth skier out of the gate. She skied with utter ferocity, hurling herself down the course and twice nearly crashing out. Yet she managed to channel the wildness and anger into pure velocity. The slalom specialist who had never won a downhill was transformed into a speed merchant and she reached the finish three-quarters of a second within Percy's time.
After that, nobody came near to beating the German. Percy was pushed down to third place as Switzerland's Brigitte Oertli snatched silver by 0.01 seconds, but Kiehl was out of sight in first place. Stunned by her own success, Kiehl sat quietly and watched even the most unsung late runners, refusing to believe she had won the gold medal until ever single racer had finished.
It was a memorable and extraordinary triumph. The irony was that, having been pushed to such success because she was so desperate to ski in the super-G, Kiehl could finish only 12th in her favourite event. Yet in the downhill, she had demolished the field. She retired from competitive sport later that year, aged just 23.