They could not be more different. She is a shy, stocky, New Jersey-born blonde who used to wait tables at the Pasta Pot in Killington, Vt., likes to do fashion sketches and wants to learn to play the saxophone. He is a dashing French blade who rides a Harley-Davidson, plays the electric guitar and, according to the French Olympic team press guide, calls himself "a ski, sex and rock 'n' roll" kind of guy.
Well, vive la diffèrence, for Donna Weinbrecht, 26, and Edgar Grospiron, 22, produced a pair of landmark Olympic skiing performances in Tignes last Thursday when they took home gold medals in mogul skiing, a once laughable pastime that made its debut as a full-fledged Olympic sport at these Albertville Games. And both won with the burden of being huge favorites who had received more pre-Olympic ballyhoo than most other competitors in the Savoie.
For her part, Weinbrecht had been a constant presence in sports pages and on magazine covers for weeks before the Games. This was because 1) she has guileless all-American good looks, including a two-foot ponytail that flies behind her when she skis, 2) she was one of a handful of U.S. athletes who had a real chance to win a medal, and 3) almost no one in the general public had the vaguest idea what mogul skiing, one of three types of freestyle skiing—ballet and aerials being the others—was all about. Weinbrecht tended to describe it in terms of feeling "a rush" or seeking "a dream run."
Once upon a time, in the early '70s, when freestyle skiing was newborn, rushes and dreams were likely to be of quite a different nature when experienced by many of the sport's freewheeling participants. The rules were a little spacey, the tricks were outasight, and no one minded being called a hot dog. The vocabulary of tricks—daffies, kosaks, zudniks, helicopters and spread eagles—became famous.
At one stage of mogul skiing's evolution, judges awarded points for something called a linked recovery, which simply meant falling down, getting up and continuing to ski as if nothing had gone wrong. Linked recoveries, in fact, once allowed mogul man Mike Williams of the U.S. to emerge victorious despite falling four times during a run at an event in Sun Valley, Idaho. However, freestyle skiing has become pretty well behaved since its hallucinogenic era, and for years its proponents pleaded with the International Olympic Committee to let them join the grown-up sports at the Olympics.
They drew negative reactions ranging from cold scorn to patronizing pats on the head. In Calgary all three freestyle disciplines were added to the program as demonstration sports—but without official Olympic medals. Then a breakthrough came in June 1988 when the Fèdèration Internationale de Ski, the sport's governing body, voted to allow mogul skiing to be a full-medal sport at the Albertville Games. It was good news for many free-stylers but not for all of them. The FIS decided that ballet (dancelike performances on groomed snow) and aerials (acrobatics off jumps) would remain as demo sports. But "we got a foot in the door," says U.S. freestyle coach Wayne Hilterbrand. "We think we'll have all three as medal events at Lillehammer in 1994."
The way Weinbrecht and Grospiron performed last week, mogul skiing alone was thrill enough. A crowd of 10,000 stood along the 253-meter course, despite a blinding wet blizzard falling out of gray skies, and they roared with childlike enthusiasm, their cheers sometimes drowning out the rock music blaring along the course. The 24 finalists—eight women and 16 men—attacked the moguls with skiing techniques that, at their best, combined brute power, precision acrobatics and a touch on the snow that only the best of Alpine racers can match. The winner is determined on the basis of speed (25%), degree of difficulty and performance of two acrobatic tricks (25%) and technique and form through the mogul field (50%).
Weinbrecht was the next to last woman to go, and she skied her run to the accompaniment of the rambunctious Rock Billy Boogie by Robert Gordon. Her clean, aggressive performance down that endless wall of back-bruising bumps showed hundreds of millions of TV viewers worldwide why she has been the best female mogul skier on earth for two years. The last woman down was France's Raphaelle Monod, who had beaten Weinbrecht in the elimination run the day before and was a crowd favorite. She rode the bumps on a massive wave of sound for a while, but she broke down in ignominious fashion near the bottom. The failure under pressure of Monod, who finished last, underscored what a cool, courageous feat Weinbrecht had performed in winning with such apparent ease.
As dramatic as Weinbrecht's triumph was, the most memorable feat of the day belonged to the man who is the undisputed leader of a dashing band of French mogul skiers whom their country's press refers to as les fauves ("the wild beasts"). Over the years, while Grospiron was winning two World Cup titles and two world championships, headline writers variously dubbed him the Bad Boy of the Bumps, Boss of the Bosses (French for "moguls' ") or simply Crazy Eddy.
Grospiron was the 16th man to hit the course. The snowstorm seemed to grow denser as he readied himself in the starting gate. A fellow fauve, Olivier Allamand, who had gone just ahead of him, had turned in the best run of the day, just beating out the U.S.'s 26-year-old Nelson Carmichael. Allamand's run meant a gold for France for sure, but the crowd adored Crazy Eddy, and when he leaped onto the course, the cheering was deafening. The sound was worse than deafening after he completed his masterpiece of a run. It was dramatic, athletic and, well, Olympian.
Grospiron was engulfed at the finish line by ecstatic countrymen. The next day the French paper L 'Equipe gushed: "In the manner of Mick Jagger, who transcends groupies, the handsome Edgar was the beast of the scene as he has always been. The rapture was intoxicating. If freestyle skiing doesn't take off now, it won't be Edgar's fault."