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Skiing - 15. January 2014.

Gagnon 10th in Flachau night slalom, Mielzynski 21st.

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Marie-Michèle Gagnon racked up her ninth top-10 result of a stellar season with a 10th-place finish in the Flachau night slalom in Austria on Tuesday, while her teammate Erin Mielzynski finished 21st in the final ladies’ slalom World Cup race before the Canadian Olympic team qualification window closes.

Gagnon, of Lac-Etchemin, Que., – who this weekend became the first Canadian to win a super combined World Cup – fittingly started with bib 1 in Tuesday’s race, the first time she has been first out of the gate in a World Cup race.

After a challenging first run she bounced back with a solid second run to earn another strong result, while Mielzynski, of Collingwood, Ont., battled her way down the course on both runs but didn’t get the reward she was hoping for.

“I’m glad I got the experience of starting first out of the way. I didn’t really know how to gauge things and once I got to the bottom I knew I should have been way more aggressive,” said Gagnon, who is in the midst of a career year with four top-5 results to her name and strong results in all five disciplines.

“The result ended up being not too bad – 10th place. I’m somewhat satisfied with that but I know I can do better. There are always a lot of positives in every run and every race and I’m learning every time. My progression is slow but deadly!”

Gagnon, who has a two-run combined time of one minute, 48.01 seconds, will now head back to Canada for a well-earned rest – her first break since before the holiday season as the ladies’ team spent Christmas training and racing in Europe. She has had career-best results in both speed and technical disciplines this season and heads home ranked seventh overall in the world, first in super combined, fourth in slalom, ninth in super-G and 16th in giant slalom.

“It’s incredible. I’m starting to rack them up,” Gagnon said of her string of top-10 results. “The skiing I’m doing is solid enough that I can really attack. I’m hoping to carry that through into the (next races). For now I can’t wait to get home – do my laundry, see my family, all that home stuff!”

Hugues Ansermoz, head coach of Canada’s ladies’ team, said Tuesday’s race was a great learning experience for Gagnon.

“She got a lot of attention after her win – she has a different status now – and then she ran No. 1,” Ansermoz said. “We had big expectations but she still finished with a 10th place, which is solid.”

USA phenom Mikaela Shiffrin, who has a huge lead in the overall slalom standings, continued her winning ways by taking victory by almost a second with a time of 1:45.83. Swedish duo Frida Hansdotter (1:46.66) and Maria Pietilae-Holmner (1:46.97) were second and third, respectively.

Mielznyski, who has been lightning-fast in training but has had trouble converting that into big results on race day, went into Tuesday’s race needing a top-12 to punch her ticket to Sochi. Tuesday’s two-run combined time of 1:49.09 and a 21st-place finish wasn’t enough to earn Tier 1 status and a guaranteed spot on the plane to Russia, but her results last year and this year mean she’s likely done enough to earn a place on the Canadian team when the Olympic qualification window closes on Jan. 26. Only a flurry of top-12 results from other Canadian skiers could eliminate her.

“I’m just really disappointed with how I skied the bottom and how many mistakes I made,” said Mielzynski of her first run. “I’m tired of coming down and seeing the numbers that I see and not being fast.

“Second run I made a mistake and it cost me quite a lot of time. For sure, my top sections were pretty good but you can’t really come back from any mistakes on this hill. I’m training fast and my skiing is there but the (results) aren’t.”

Mielzynski, who was 20th after the first run Tuesday, secured her second career podium last season with a third-place finish in slalom in Zagreb, Croatia, in January 2013. Her top finishes this season are a 17th-place finish in slalom in Bormio, Italy, and 16th in giant slalom in Beaver Creek, USA. The next ladies’ slalom World Cup race – scheduled for Maribor, Slovenia, on Feb. 2 – comes after the Olympic qualification window closes.

“Erin made a lot of mistakes in the first run. Second run started okay and then she got a gate in her goggles and almost went out,” Ansermoz said. “She’s trying very hard and is fighting like crazy. The result is not what she wanted but you need every point you can get. This is not the end of the world.”

Brittany Phelan, of Mont-Tremblant, Que., who has already met the Tier 1 qualification criteria for the Canadian team for Sochi, was 42nd after the first run, while Madison Irwin, of Toronto, Ont., was 46th. Only the top 30 racers from the first run advance to the second run.

The ladies’ team now heads back to Canada for its first break since before the holiday season.
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