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  • Sunday, February 8, 1998

    Canadian's queen of the hill

    By CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun
      IIZUNA KOGEN -- Anne-Marie Pelchat stood at the bottom of the mountain, raised her face to the sky and shot her arms heavenward.
     Her eyeshadow sparkled silver and gold.
     "This is my day," she said. "This is my day."
     Pelchat, a 23-year-old from Levis, Que., ranked 18th in the world in moguls, staged Canada's first stunning upset of these XVIII Winter Olympic Games when she stormed to the top of the list of qualifiers in the first day of competition in freestyle skiing.
     Coupled with the shocking elimination of two-time world champion and double World Cup winner Candace Gilg of France, Pelchat will be in a what is now a wide-open battle for medals in Tuesday night's final round.
     "I think I ski better when I'm on the edge," said Pelchat, "but usually I don't ski on the edge. I was on the edge today."
     It almost cost her in the early stages of the 250-m dash down the hill when she lost her balance just before the first of the two jumps.
     She recovered strongly.
     "When I lost my balance, I said to myself, 'I'm too stiff on the top. You're not smooth enough.' I had to keep fighting, but I also had to relax."
     Pelchat scored 23.35 points, tied with American Donna Weinbrecht, but Pelchat was awarded first place and the chance to go last in Wednesday's final run on the strength of her quicker speed down the course.
     Her unexpectedly strong showing yesterday should also give her an important mental advantage with the judges come Wednesday. There are seven judges who mark the technical merit of the skiers' turns and two who mark the two aerials they perform each run.
     "I think the judges know now when they see me race that I'm capable of a top five," she said.
     Or maybe better.
     Pelchat , wearing good luck earrings she bought in Hong Kong and a necklace with an Oriental symbol for happiness, said she was nervous at the top of the hill, but has struggled not to let the pressure of the Olympic Games squeeze her too much.
     "I was looking around, but I tried to stay focused and almost see everything in slow motion."
     Pelchat won't be the only one carrying Canada's colors Tuesday night as Tami Bradley of Vancouver finished 15th with 21.28 points and captured the second-to-last qualifying spot for the final.
     Josee Charbonneau of Bellefeuille, Que., meanwhile was devastated by her 24th place-finish and her elimination from the competition.
     "I feel so bad. This is the biggest disappointment of my life," she said after commiserating with Gilg.
     "I was a little nervous at the top of the hill, but I don't know what happened. Then I think about the World Cup champion being out. She told me, "I (messed) up my career in two seconds.'"
     Gilg went awry when she attempted a helicopter jump, got off axis and went off the course.
     That leaves the door wide open for Pelchat. She wouldn't say exactly what the color of her eyeshadow was yesterday and it was hard to tell in the gold and silver mix.
     She might consider wearing it again Tuesday night.
     It might just go well with what she'll have around her neck.

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