Banner year for US skiers despite Koch's late skid

US ski racers must be content with ''only'' two World Cups this year instead of an unprecedented three. Vermonter Bill Koch failed to win his second consecutive Nordic World Cup.

Finishing a disappointing ninth in the season's final race last weekend, Koch saw his slim seven-point lead in the season-long World Cup chase evaporate. Instead, 1981 champion Alexander Zavjalov of the Soviet Union, by finishing a strong second in the 30-kilometer event at Labrador City, Canada, came out on top overall for the second time in three years.

Winning the final men's race in 1 hour, 27 minutes, 24.1 seconds, Sweden's Gunde Svan also managed to ease past Koch in the overall cross-country competition. Final point standings of the top three were Zavjalov 122, Svan 116, and Koch 114.

Still, it was an amazing year for American ski racers, who only a few seasons ago were struggling to finish in the top 15 at international events. Tamara McKinney of Squaw Valley, Calif. became the first American woman ever to win the overall women's Alpine World Cup. She was named ''skier of the year'' by the US Ski Writers last weekend. Phil Mahre of Yakima, Wash. joined Italy's Gustavo Thoeni and Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark to become only the third man in history to win three consecutive Alpine World Cups.

Beyond those accomplishments, Kerry Lynch of Winter Park, Colo. became the first American ever to win the unofficial Nordic Combined (cross-country and ski jumping) championship. In ski jumping, where the United States has never been strong, Jeff Hastings of Norwich, Vt. tied for 11th in World Cup competition. And among the up-and-coming set, Bill Johnson of Van Nuys, Calif. finished first on the Europa Cup circuit, Europe's triple A league of Alpine ski racing.

McKinney's incredible stretch drive in the final six races gave her, besides the overall World Cup, the championship in giant slalom, which she had won two years ago. It also appeared to spur teammate Cindy Nelson, whose fast finishes behind McKinney in the final races helped produce her best season since 1976.

As for Mahre, who also captured the giant slalom World Cup, he just seemed glad the long season was over. So did his twin brother Steve and Stenmark, who faltered in the final races. Some people even wondered whether the Mahres would compete in the Sarajevo Olympics next winter. The general assumption is, however , that after a summer off, they'll return for a final Olympic year.

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