Montillet-Carles turns tragedy into triumph
The women's downhill was expected to be tightly contested, with several skiers tipped for gold. That season’s World Cup races had been dominated by Italy's Isolde Kostner, Hilde Gerg from Germany and the Austrian Renate Götschl. Each of them had won two races, and the three-way tussle between them was a feature of almost every race. It seemed certain that the Olympic gold would end up in the hands of one of this trio.
Then there was the supporting cast, which included French skier Carole Montillet-Carles. Now 28, she had spent 10 years on the World Cup circuit without winning a single downhill.
Her preparations for the Games had been emotionally difficult. Just a few months earlier, her team-mate and friend Regine Cavagnoud had been tragically killed in an accident during training. Montillet-Carles was left shocked and devastated by her death, and declared that she would dedicate her World Cup season to her friend’s memory. However, results had not gone her way and she arrived in Salt Lake City with a best finish of seventh, having briefly contemplated not even bothering to take part in the Games at all.
She trained alone, determined to produce something special to honour Cavagnoud. And so it came to pass. Montillet-Carles, who had not won a race in a decade of trying, found her perfect form at the perfect moment. She clocked a time of 1 minute 39.56 seconds to put herself into the lead and then watched as a succession of better-known skiers failed to beat it. Gerg was nearly a second back, while Götschl was over 0.8 seconds adrift. When Kostner crossed the line in 1 minute 40.01 seconds, the Frenchwoman knew her dream had been realised; the title was hers.