First U.S. Medal goes to Tahoe’s Bahrke
PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Tahoe City freestyle moguls skier Shannon Bahrke put America in the medals column Saturday, taking the silver behind gold-medal winner Kari Traa of Norway.
Bahrke was considered the second-best hope to win America’s first medal of these Olympics. The American favorite, Hannah Hardaway, struggled to a fifth-place finish.
Tae Satoya of Japan, who won the gold in her home country in 1998, took the bronze this time.
Bahrke felt no shame finishing second to Traa, who had won five of the last six World Cup events to establish herself as the best moguls skier in the world.
In fact, even with Traa’s victory, the whole day felt like a victory for the Americans, who got the solid start they were hoping for in their quest to win 20 medals at these Olympics.
“I can’t believe I’m on the podium, let alone the first American to win a medal,” Bahrke said. “It adds something special after Sept. 11.”
With glitter around her eyes and a big smile to relax her before her run, Bahrke was nearly flawless, whipping her way through the bumps and making the smooth transitions from the heights of her daring jumps back to the hard-packed snow.
She performed a helicopter iron cross for one of her jumps — a full revolution with the tips of the skis crossed, all the while looking straight back toward the top of the hill.
When it was over, Bahrke shook her head in excitement and pumped her fists.
A few dozen family members — the Bahrke Brigade — made lots of noise in the cheering section, all wearing red, white and blue ski caps with the words “Go Shannon” on them.
Bahrke’s grandparents saw her ski in person for the first time. Her dad was crying when it was over.
“Seeing the smile on your dad’s face while tears are rolling down his cheeks, it’s a feeling I’ll never forget,” she said.
Bahrke, 21, a former soccer player and jazz band member at North Tahoe High School, is the first homegrown skier from the Lake Tahoe Basin to medal at the Olympics.
After Bahrke’s sterling run, she had to wait for four more skiers to go — including Hardaway and American Ann Battelle, who finished seventh. Each time Bahrke saw a score lower than hers, she breathed deep, not quite believing she might win the whole thing.
But with Traa at the top of the mountain, no lead is safe.
The Norwegian climbed to the top of this sport about two years ago, an ascent that began when she lost 20 pounds after swearing off chocolate.
Traa didn’t have any family waiting for her at the finish line. Instead, it was the crown prince of Norway who offered her congratulations.
“I normally ski well under pressure,” Traa said. “I love that feeling up top, when I know people are expecting things from me.”
Traa beat Bahrke by .88 points — a fairly big margin in this sport — with a run she called merely “OK.” After crossing the finish line, she simply skied off to the side, without raising a hand in celebration.
Bahrke immediately realized the significance of her silver medal. But like any important triumph, it will surely take time to sink in.
“I’ll probably feel it more when I’m home watching this on TV, and seeing other Americans on the podium,” she said. “I’ll be able to say, ‘I did that.’ It’s a huge honor to be the first American to win a medal in the Olympics.”