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Stenmark bows to post-Olympic applause

Ingermar Stenmark, the Olympic skiing champion, has lost his last refuge from the autograph hordes. Taking part in the only World Cup races in the United States this season, the taciturn Swede was hoping for the luxury of once again going incognito. Well, almost.

That was the way it was here two years ago, when he sat in the base lodge between runs and no one paid much attention. No micriphones, no television cameras, no little kids sticking paper, skis, napkins -- anything that will take a pen -- in front of him. ah, it was a peaceful time then, a Yankee retreat from Europe's Alpine madness.

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But if there ever is a time when a European skiing sensation might be left alone in the US, it is not after winning two Olympic gold medals.

"People are getting more like in Europe; they want signatures. It was good two years ago," sighed Stenmark, who notched his 47th World Cup win in a slalom here last week. That's 47 out of 100 giant slaloms and slaloms, plus two Olympic gold medals, for anybody who is still counting.

Nevertheless, when pressed, Ingermar admits that he likes the cheers that greet his ears when he's on the course. It's the constant limelight, the acclaim that can so easily blur a racer's concentration, that bothers him.

Don't believe for an instant, though, that he doesn't want to be acclaimed as undisputed king of ski racers. The three-time World Cup champion admits that the most important three minutes of his career were in winning those two golds in the slalom and giant slalom at Lake Placid.

But why?After all, he has consistently demonstrated since 1974 that he is one of the great skiiers of all time, and technically the best giant-slalom racer who ever [World Illegible] a turn.

"Because it's a big race," Ingemar answered. "If I would have been second or third, people would have said I couldn't win the big race." Nobody really said that after the 1976 Olympics at Innsbruck, when he fell in the slalom and almost fell in the giant slalom, still managing to finish third. But some people may have wondered.

The night before the giant slalom at Lake Placid, Stenmark says, he did manage to sleep. "But I was worried at the start." That's about the closest admission of emotion that Ingemar can muster.

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If you saw the race on television, you may remember that remarkable recovery, when he leaned too far inside on a turn and Lake Placid's tricky artificial snow gave way, letting his skis slide out from under him. It looked like a sure fall and another gold gone by the boards. But somehow this strong balancing artist of an athlete reached down with his inside (right) hand and literally pushed himself off the snow and back onto his skis without losing momentum.

What was the world seeing then? An indomitable will refusing to go down? "I thought I was out," he says with a little smile.

There was a great post-Lake Placid celebration that carried over to this White Mountain resort, and was generally conceded to have played a part in Stenmark's fall in the first post-Olympic race, a giant slalom here. "It's hard to race after the Olympics," he confided. "It's like a new season."

The lapse didn't last, however, as he showed in taking the slalom by almost a full second over Christian Neureuther of West Germany, then winning the next giant slalom on the circuit at Mont Ste. Anne, Quebec, Saturday. The two victories boosted his World Cup total points to 185 for the season, widening his lead to 43 points over second-place Andreas Wenzel of Liechtenstein for the overall crown, which Ingemar is attempting to win without skiing any downhill events.

Stenmark says he won't announce any plans for the future until the final World cup race. But he gives every indication of opting to continue racing through the 1982 World Championships, anyway. When he does quit, he says, he probably won't coach or stay with skiing, but he isn't sure. Would he ski with the US pro circuit? "Maybe, but I don't think so. It's only dual [head to head] slalom. I don't like that so well."

Neither, probably, would most of the guys in the other starting gate.


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