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Tristan Gale has exceeded her expectations in the Olympics.
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Wednesday, February 20, 2002
Gale wins in backyard, to Parsley's delight

Associated Press

PARK CITY, Utah -- The gold medal went to a local hero. The silver to an American one.

Tristan Gale
Tristan Gale celebrates with hometown fans after winning the gold medal in skeleton.

Women's skeleton couldn't have ended more fittingly -- a one-two star-spangled finish that came just moments after Jimmy Shea's emotional gold-medal ride down the snow-covered track.

Tristan Gale, sliding on a hill practically in her back yard, won by one-tenth of a second over Lea Ann Parsley, a decorated Ohio firefighter who helped carry in the tattered World Trade Center flag during the opening ceremony.

"It's been a great day for the U.S., and U.S. skeleton," Parsley said. "Two golds and a silver. You can't ask for any more than that."

Gale's victory capped two spine-tingling days at Utah Olympic Park for an American team suddenly scooping up gold medals by the handful.

On Tuesday night, the USA-2 women's bobsled team of Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers won gold, and before noon Wednesday, Shea, Gale and Parsley had carved their names into the Wasatch Mountains.

All five got their medals Wednesday night, kicking off what Gale called a "rocking and rolling" party for her staid hometown.

She had a great time at the ceremony, although she was nervous going in.

"That was a lot harder than what I did today, for sure," she said. "We practiced that run at Park City thousands of times. Never once did we practice getting on a podium and practice the national anthem in front of your home country and hometown crowd at the Olympics."

Fun might as well be Gale's middle name. She streaked her hair red, white and blue for the games.

While awaiting her final run in the starter's house, Gale playfully mugged for television cameras and then finished her two heats in 1 minute, 45.11 seconds to give the United States a golden sweep in skeleton -- making its first appearance in the Winter Olympics since 1948.

Only a half-hour earlier, Shea had won his gold.

Parsley, who entered the final round leading by .01 seconds, was second in 1:45.21. Alex Coomber of Britain won the bronze in 1:45.37.

Gale was a competitive alpine skier for 10 years before trying skeleton. She wasn't expected to contend for a medal after failing to finish higher than eighth in a World Cup event this season.

Gale didn't care about the predictions. She ripped down the icy, 16-curve course she knew better than anyone in the field.

Last month, she also surprised the field by winning the U.S. Olympic trials here, about 35 miles from her home in Salt Lake City.

"It was a confidence thing," said Gale, who wore glitter around her eyes and painted "USA" on her left cheek. "I knew I could slide well here. But I didn't know I could slide with international competition. I just went out and did my best."

Parsley, the next-to-last competitor, completed her second run in 52.94 seconds and briefly moved into first place.

But in case anyone was wondering if the 21-year-old Gale was feeling the pressure, Gale smiled and waved to the cameras as if her mom and dad were making a home movie of her zipping through the neighborhood.

When Gale crossed the finish line, she hadn't even gotten off her sled when Parsley, her 33-year-old teammate, jumped on her and the two rolled around on the track.

"I was as psyched for her as I was for myself," Parsley said.

Parsley's unselfishness was predictable.

After all, she has been a volunteer firefighter in her hometown of Granville, Ohio, since she was 16 and still does it "to give something back."

In 1999, Parsley was selected as Ohio Firefighter of the Year after helping save a teenager in a wheelchair and her mother from a burning house.

She was selected as one of eight athletes who carried the flag from ground zero into the stadium during the opening ceremony. It was an experience she'll never forget.

"I was like, 'Wow, this is the Olympics'. I kind of had to come back down from that night and focus," she said.

Parsley barely made the American team, doing so in the final event of the World Cup season by finishing second at a race in St. Moritz, Switzerland. But she came to Utah with a badly pulled hamstring, and worried about how it would respond on race day.

It did fine, and so did she, twice blazing downhill at nearly 80 mph in the black helmet with flames she spray-painted on herself.

"My hamstring is sore," she said. "On a day like today, adrenaline is a painkiller."

And so is a silver medal.