Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Golden Girl with Spirit of a Champ

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Golden Girl with Spirit of a Champ

Article excerpt


THEY all loved Regine Cavagnoud.

As a world skiing Super-G champion and the cheery life and soul of the French squad, her team-mates would always look to her for guidance and inspiration, delighted that she had been chosen as the country's flag-bearer for the Salt Lake City Olympics.

Tragically, it never happened. In October, just days after the season had begun, Cavagnoud was on a routine training run in Austria when she had a freak high-speed collision with a German trainer. She suffered brain injuries and died. She was just 31.

Her team-mates were so crestfallen, it felt difficult for them to carry on and the thought of the Games seemed completely irrelevant.

Yet one woman, above all, kept them going. Carole Montillet took on the mantle of team leader, telling them all they should adopt a new attitude to the sport.

"From now on, we'll live what we're doing with more intensity," said Montillet, and, here in Salt Lake, she led by extraordinary example, paying her ultimate tribute to her old friend by producing the race of her life on the treacherous Wildflower piste to earn the Olympic downhill title that many had once thought would be won by Cavagnoud.

Until yesterday, Montillet had never threatened to win a World or Olympic championship medal and, ironically, with only one World Cup win to her name she was constantly compared unfavourably with Cavagnoud. Yet the 28-year-old dark horse reckoned the thought of honouring Cavagnoud was in her heart throughout the run.

"Nobody expected that, not even me," she said with emotion afterwards, having improbably demolished the field by almost half-a-second. "I think Regine must be very proud of me from where she is."

Her team management could hardly credit it, either. "This is great for the girls after all they've been through, especially for Carole, who has been magnificent," French ski team director Gerard Rougier said, after watching Montillet emulate Jean-Luc Cretier, the equally unexpected winner of the men's downhill in the Nagano Games. …

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