U.S. women battle in snowy Aspen
Be careful what you wish for…
Aspen, Colo., race organizers of the Audi Aspen Winternational were looking for more snow a couple of weeks ago. Last Thursday night, it started dumping and didn’t stop until a couple of feet had fallen.
And the first women’s World Cup downhill in Aspen since 1988 was rolled back a day to Saturday.
And Saturday’s super G was postponed until some time and some place in Europe.
The women’s troupe headed back to Europe Monday – except Resi Stiegler. The Park City Winter Sports School grad was grabbing a few days of down time at home in Jackson Hole, Wyo., before rejoining the group. And they’ve already run into a relocated race; the downhill and super G planned for Val d’Isere, France – where Lindsey Kildow has won the last two years – have been moved to St. Moritz, Switzerland, host of the 2003 alpine World Championships.
Formerly Kildow, now Lindsey Vonn, lives in Park City with her new (as of Sept. 29) husband, Thomas. She had the top U.S. result for the weekend, finishing fourth in the downhill, which was halted after 37 racers – and a crash involving young French skier Ann-Sophie Barthet – because of fog and unsafe visibility up high on the course. Safety is always the No. 1 priority in races and when conditions change, such as the fog gripping the top section, race officials pull the plug on racing.
Sunday, Stiegler led four Yanks into the top 30 in slalom, finishing eighth in soft snow.
Sunday (women’s slalom) – Nicole Hosp of Austria, the reigning World Cup overall champion, won the women’s slalom in soft snow. Her time was 1:34.60. She got a winning break when first-run leader, taking the final run of the day, had a problem midway down the course and wound up finishing second (1:35.79). Austrian Kathrin Zettel was third (1:35.94).
Stiegler moved up a notch on the final run, finishing eighth in 1:37.07. Julia Mancuso was 19th with Vonn 27th and Kaylin Richardson 28th.
For Stiegler, it was another sign of her maturing. "Can I say that? That I’m maturing? I don’t know," she laughed, "but, yeah, i think that’s part of it. I really focused this year on trying to put two cleaner runs together.
"Yeah, maybe I’m growing up. I always try to make improvements every year," the free-wheeling Stiegler said.
She praised Aspen organizers, noting with the huge amount of snow during the week, there wasn’t enough time for the course to get icy and hard, which most World Cup skiers prefer. "It’s difficult to have a clean course, but they did a good job," she said.
Saturday (women’s DH) – Scheduling problems prohibited having a women’s downhill in Aspen since Swiss Miss Brigitte Oertli won in March 1988. This season though, Lake Louise – west of Calgary – had just one downhill and perhaps International Ski Federation officials moved it to Aspen.
In any event, locals – organizers, residents, ski fans – were amped about getting back the speed race. Aspen has hosted several super Gs, but SG ain’t DH, and the high speed of downhill, especially in a community with ski racing roots as deep as the onetime silver mining town, was the Holy Grail.
The snowfall stopped during the night, giving hundreds of course workers and volunteers a chance to clear most of the new snow. But the course conditions remained soft; getting outside a narrow route through the middle of the run got increasingly problematic. The start was dropped to the normal super G start for safety reasons.
Several Austrian women, including Hosp, pulled out to protest the conditions. Teammate Alexandra Meissnitzer – one of Picabo Street’s closest friends when she was competing – crashed and when Barthet went down, officials said the fog had become unsafe and stopped the race.
Britt Janyk, who paid her own way through training last season and skied her way back onto the Canadian team, grabbed her first World Cup triumph. She skied third and had a time of 1:14.17. Marlies Schild of Austria, the defending World Cup slalom champion, was second in 1:14.59 and teammate Renate Goetschl finished third (1:14.63).
Five-hundredths of a second back in fourth place was Vonn, who had produced the fastest time in each of the training runs. Mancuso was 16th, Stacey Cook 20th and Stiegler 24th.
"Essentially, it was a whole other race, not like what I ran earlier in training. And coming out of the super G start made it a little slower and, again, a totally different race," she said, referring to the lower start and softer snow.
Women’s Head Coach Patrick Riml said, "The organizers did a helluva job to try to make this work under such challenging conditions. Truthfully, I was a little surprised – happy but surprised – they were able to get the race, as much as they could. It was so difficult to get the snow and there was so much in the flats."
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