Stiegler fourth in Austria
Snow! Ohmygawd, snow!
Or, as Park City Winter Sports School alumna Resi Stiegler gushed Saturday in Reiteralm, Austria, "We had meters and meters and meters of snow. I’ve never seen so much snow."
She was euphoric because: (a) She loves big dumps of snow and a chance to free-ski, not simply run gates in a race or training; (b) She finished fourth in the first World Cup slalom of the 2008 season, equaling the best performance of her international career; (c) See (a).
Sunday, it was more of the same. More snow, perhaps a meter or so, and another slalom, this time for men. Sasha Rearick, the U.S. men’s slalom and GS head coach, echoed Stiegler. "It’s been a winter wonderland all week," he said. Men’s Head Coach Phil McNichol called it "an epic blizzard."
Then, without losing a beat, McNichol reflected on the Ski Team’s new car sponsor and shifted into marketing mode, quickly noting, "We’ve been digging cars out all week … but, fortunately, we’ve got these Audi Quattros, which won’t be stopped."
The irony to the second race weekend on a schedule that runs into early March wasn’t lost on Stiegler. The races at been shifted to Reiteralm, not far from Salzburg, because of bum snow conditions in Finland, even north of the Arctic Circle. And yet they almost were scrubbed because of too much snow as the blizzard pelted the course during each race.
In the end, the course crews did a storybook job of staying ahead of, or at least even with, the four-day storm, which changed to light rain by late Sunday as all the men were leaving town.
"Gold medal for those chaps. They’ve done a great job," said Chris Knight, the U.S. women’s slalom/GS head coach.
A look back:
Saturday (women’s SL) — Austrian Marlies Schild has all but owned slalom in the last couple of seasons. The Olympic bronze medalist in 2006, she shanked the event at the World Championships in Sweden last February — but still wound up with silver. She’s the reigning World Cup SL champion … and Saturday she out-battled the storm for her first win of the winter.
Schild led after the first run and went on to win in 1:55.53, just six-hundredths of a second over teammate Nicole Hosp, the current World Cup overall champ. Stiegler moved up a spot during the second run, finishing fourth with a two-run time of 1:55.94.
"Oooooh, it was tough," she said, a bit wistfully but good-naturedly, too, describing the feeling as she watched Schild churn methodically through the run, bumping her off what would have been her first podium.
"I mean, there were so many people in the finish area and they wanted me to get the podium. And I was hoping for it," Stiegler said. "But Schild is so good … and my time’ll come.
"I thought I was gonna pass out. Everybody was rooting for me," she laughed.
Knight was buoyant about Stiegler’s performance. "She’s got her confidence, she’s got great balance and now it’s a case of putting together those two good runs. She had two good ones today, but they just weren’t enough …
"Resi’s in a different place this year. Everyone’s noticing. She didn’t get that first podium today, but she’s getting closer every race."
Sunday (men’s SL) — With the storm gusting at times and the temperature hovering around freezing, Parkite Ted Ligety was slapped with a sudden flare-up of snow as he went into a turn, and it threw him off course briefly. He had to stop and, by the time he had made his way back to the run, he had lost so much time that the laser-like precision he showed at the top of the course was gone. He didn’t reach the second run, which is reserved for the top 30 skiers in the first test.
So, that left it up to Jimmy Cochran, who has shifted in the last few summers from his New England roots to Park City for intense preseason training with many of his teammates. He was fifth in the first run but had some problems in the second run; still, he equaled his second-best slalom result, finishing 14th. The only other American to qualify, Bode Miller, was 26th.
Switzerland’s Marc Gini, who never had finished better than ninth in a World Cup until Sunday, grabbed his first podium and his first World Cup triumph, finishing 1:53.49, with Finn Kalle Palander runner-up in 1:53.77. Cochran was timed in 1:55.53.
"It was another nasty day. The snow was wet enough that it was beading up on our jackets," McNichol said. "For Jimmy to come from outside the first 30 starters [who get the better conditions] with a top-5 run is outstanding. He knows he can do it, even in tough conditions … and Cody Marshall [NorAm SL champion] finishing 31st despite running 57th in the storm was impressive, too."
Added Rearick, "I know Cody’s got another gear which he hasn’t shown yet this fall. I may have to take him out to the woodshed and, um, ‘discuss’ things with him because he can make his breakthrough, but he’s got to reach for that next gear."
The next World Cup races are in North America — the men run downhill and super-G Nov. 24-25 at Lake Louise while the women have a GS and slalom at Panorama, B.C. The next weekend, it’s the men’s Charles Schwab Birds of Prey races Nov. 29-Dec. 2 at Beaver Creek, Colo., while the women have a DH and a super-G at Lake Louise.
While the men return to Europe, the women will be at the Audi Aspen Winternational with a downhill — the first at Aspen in 20 years – -plus a super-G and slalom Dec. 7-9.
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