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    Sunday, February 8, 1998

    Dreams and nightmares for skiiers

    By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun
      HAKUDA, Japan - About six hours after he had his worst nightmare, Brian Stemmle had his worst nightmare.
     "It was the middle of the night. I woke up in a cold sweat," said the Canadian skier who had drawn the worst possible starting position for last night's downhill - 30th.
     "I dreamed I missed my start. I dreamed I had to take a helicopter to the top of the hill."
     Edi Podivinsky had sweet dreams. He dreamed Lillehammer bronze-medal dreams. But he, too, knew his odds had gone from about 20-to-1 to about 50-1 of repeating his Olympic feat here when he drew the 23rd start position.
     In the end, however, their hopes and fears went on hold. The Olympic downhill was postponed a day. More likely, with the weather predicted to hit here in the next 24 hours, it will be postponed day after day after day.
     And that's good news.
     Canada's over-the-hill downhill skiers get a do-over.
     They left the hill here yesterday as the happy gang.
     "Thirty is a bad number," Stemmle said. "There isn't a worse one. I was extremely disappointed when we had the draw."
     The top 15 skiers on the World Cup tour get to pick their positions in order of their standings. The next 15, where both Podivinsky and Stemmle are located, draw from the remaining top-30 positions.
     Usually, skiers don't like the first four or five start positions. And they certainly don't like anything later than 20th, especially on a soft-snow course like they have here, a course that ruts up faster than most European or Canadian downhill runs.
     There was a moment waiting up there on the hill yesterday when the two skiers thought everything might be working out great.
     "The longer we waited for the start, the snow started looking better and better," Podivinsky said.
     "If it had cleared, that would have meant powder snow for the first guys. They'd dust it off and it would have been perfect for us. There was a time there I was kind of hoping it would go," said the skier born and raised in Edmonton.
     "Because of our start times, we were sitting in the lodge up there looking out the window. We were looking out the window watching it start to snow. Then it started to clear a bit for a while there.
     "We got excited. We were putting on our boots, then taking them off again. Putting them on and taking them off."
     Podivinsky woke up in the morning feeling exactly like he had felt in Lillehammer. No cold sweat for this guy.
     "I was really fired up," he said.
     "I was really excited for today. I wanted to be just like I was four years ago. I have been trying to figure out how I felt compared to Lillehammer and I imagined that I would feel like I felt this morning.
     "I had a lot of energy. It felt exactly like Lillehammer. The only difference was that in Lillehammer, it was pitch dark outside. It wasn't dark when we woke up here."
     Stemmle has tried not to think about his previous three Olympic experiences. Every time he's been a bust.
     But for months and months, he's been doing the same thing just about every morning when he wakes up - and if not then, at least once during the day.
     "I close my eyes and I ski the Olympic course," he said. "From top to bottom. Every turn."
     He'll do it again today, and maybe tomorrow, and maybe again the next day.
     Edi Podivinsky, no matter what happens here, will always have that bronze medal from Lillehammer.
     That's why Stemmle has skied this race two or three hundred times in his head. He has never finished better than 23rd in his previous three Olympics.
     He wants it to be different this time.
     "I've been nervous before at the Olympics and I haven't dealt with it well," he said.
     "The most disappointing thing about my career has been how I've performed at the Olympics.
     "This will be my last chance."