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Seizinger seizes the day and makes history

Katja Seizinger Getty
20 Feb 1998
Nagano 1998, Alpine Skiing, Germany, Olympic News

No man or woman had ever retained the Olympic downhill title going into Nagano. The margins were so tight, the courses so varied, the standard of skiing so high that back-to-back gold medals seemed a near impossibility. In the men’s event, the reigning champion Tommy Moe of the USA, could place only 12th in Nagano. The spotlight then shifted to the incumbent women's champion, Germany’s Katja Seizinger.

Seizinger had won downhill gold in 1994 by more than half a second, and had since established herself among the best female skiers in the world. She won the overall World Cup title in both 1996 and 1998, and in the build-up to Nagano had won four of the six World Cup downhill races. She was clearly in fine form, and despite the burden of history, was still heavily fancied to retain her title.

Katja Seizinger Getty

The pressure increased a little as the race was postponed twice because of poor weather conditions. That might have distracted some athletes, but when Seizinger stood at the start gate, she seemed immune to the pressure.

She was the first of the favourites to race, and set a strong time of 1 minute 28.89 seconds. Just how good that time was soon became clear, as none of her main rivals could better it. Nearest of all was Sweden's Pernilla Wiberg, who finished just 0.29 seconds adrift, but Seizinger's time remained good enough for her to retain her Olympic title, and make history.

Katja Seizinger Getty

She took a second gold medal in the combined, which turned into a close battle between her and fellow German Martina Ertl, a slalom specialist. Hilde Gerg took bronze behind to hand Germany a clean sweep of the medals. Seizinger also took a bronze in the giant slalom to complete a hugely successful Games. Sadly, she was injured later in 1998, forced to sit out the 1999 season and then retired from competitive skiing altogether.

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