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TORINO: Freestyle: Bahrke grateful for another shot at moguls gold

TORINO: Freestyle: Bahrke grateful for another shot at moguls gold{mosimage}SAUZE d’OULX, Italy – American freestyle skier Shannon Bahrke, a silver medalist at the 2002 Olympics, is acting nothing like a grizzled veteran as she approaches what could be her final shot at the Games, Saturday on the moguls course.

Excited is more like it.

That’s what happens when an athlete realizes that, fair or not, she’s probably closer to the end of her career than the beginning. And that’s how things go when she’s seen her chances of competing at a top level nearly wiped away.

”I’ve been injured the last year and a half, so this is a new experience,” she said. ”I still can’t believe I’m back again.”

Bahrke, 25, had the honor of winning the first of a record 34 medals the Americans took in 2002. This year, women’s moguls are on the first day of competition, but at night, so she’s less likely to be the first American winner this time.

Two years ago, Bahrke broke her jaw when her face slammed into her ski pole during a crash. Last year, it was a more traditional injury — to her knee — that cost her the second half of that season.

She recovered in time to qualify for her second Olympics and now, she’s seeing these Games and this sport in a different light.

”I’m going to do what I want to do, and if they like it, they like it, and if they don’t, they don’t,” she said after finishing second at the Olympic trials in December.

Bahrke is one of four American women on the roster.

Hannah Kearney, the winner of last year’s World Championships, is largely considered the best U.S. moguls skier. Michelle Roark, the only of the four women to take a day off from training Friday, won a pair of World Cup events last month.

Jillian Vogtli, who at 32 is seven years older than Bahrke, earned her first top-three finish of the season at Lake Placid, New York, on Jan. 22. That put her on the team on the last possible day to qualify.

In 2002, the American freestyle team won three silver medals in four events — men’s and women’s moguls and aerials.

On Saturday, the American women will face their toughest competition for gold from Canada’s World Cup leader Jennifer Heil, who won the World Cup in 2003 and 2004.

Also entered is Kari Traa of Norway, the defending gold medalist from Salt Lake, who has won all the previous World Cup events staged at Sauze d’Oulx, and Nikola Sudova of the Czech Republic, who was second to Kearney at the World Championships.

What do you think?


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