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In Third Olympics, Fletcher Qualifies

February 23, 2006

BARDONECCHIA, Italy (AP) _ American Rosey Fletcher put her past Olympic meltdowns behind her in a big way, finishing second in Olympic women’s parallel giant slalom qualifying Thursday.

Young Russian Ekaterina Tudigescheva had the fastest combined time on the side-by-side red and blue courses at 1 minute, 20.85 seconds, just .03 ahead of Fletcher. They will be the top two seeds in a 16-racer bracket, in which riders advance to the championship by winning head-to-head races.

Fletcher, now in her third Olympics, failed to qualify for the finals in her first two.

Her 2002 failure was especially disappointing because she was ranked third in the world at the time. She is ranked eighth this season.

``I’m so happy that’s over,″ she said after finishing her second qualifying run. ``I’m just going to try to carry it through run-to-run. In this kind of race, when you’ve got the world’s best, there’s going to be no easy bracket.″

American Michelle Gorgone’s day was all but over within the first few turns of her first run when she turned sideways after making hard contact with a gate. It forced her to ride through the next gate backward before she could right herself. She skied the rest of the course fast, but the mistake cost her too much momentum.

``It was really bizarre,″ she said. ``I think maybe it twisted my upper body, which made my (back) leg come around.″

She ended up in 22nd, eight spots out of the finals.

``I’m pretty disappointed. I thought I had a really good shot here. Unfortunately, I will never get to see, so in four years I’ll come back,″ Gorgone said. ``Coming in, I was really psyched I made the team, thinking anything else that happens is icing on the cake. Then, of course, after the race you’re feeling like ... I’m not happy with this.″

She wasn’t the only one. Manuela Riegler of Switzerland, who finished first at the 2005 World Championships, crashed at the bottom of her second run and wound up 28th. Lone Canadian Alexa Loo also failed to make the finals after making a mistake at the bottom of what had been a fast first run.

``I was celebrating before the finish line. I was getting ahead of Daniela Meuli and I was like, yeah, this is what I’m going to have to do this afternoon,″ Loo said. ``I just kind of sketched out. That kind of mistake is strictly upstairs.″

Meuli, the current World Cup leader, ended up sixth, behind top French rider Julie Pomagalski, Russian Svetlana Boldikova and German Amelie Kober.

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