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Skiing - 02. December 2013.

Three Canadians in top 20 in Beaver Creekgiant slalom

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Career-best giant slalom results from Marie-Pier Préfontaine and Erin Mielzynski and another strong performance from Marie-Michèle Gagnon gave Canada three racers in the top 20 at the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup in Beaver Creek, USA, on Sunday.

Préfontaine, of Saint-Sauveur, Que., matched her career best result from 2011 when she tied for ninth Sunday on the back of a storming second run. Mielzynski, of Collingwood, Ont., is one of the world’s best slalom skiers but Sunday’s 16th-place finish was her first top-30 result in giant slalom, while Gagnon, of Lac-Etchemin, Que., finished 13th to continue her strong start to the season.

“That was sweet. In my second run I finally skied like I can,” said Préfontaine, who had the fifth-fastest second run of the day and a two-run combined time of two minutes, 19.33 seconds. “I’ve been working so hard on finding a way to ski like I do in training. Today I skied like normal in the second run, like I do in training. Hopefully I can do it again!

“In my whole time with the team, we’ve never had three girls in the second run of the giant slalom. One of the coaches said it was the first time since 2006.”

Mielzynski was starting only her seventh World Cup giant slalom race and Sunday was the first time she had qualified for the second run by finishing in the top 30 after the first run.

“I came into today without any expectations. My goal was to figure out a good mental approach to racing,” said Mielzynski, who started 57th and clocked a two-run combined time of 2:20.18. “This will help with my confidence in both events (giant slalom and slalom). It was really exciting.”

Gagnon, who has had a storming start to her season with a 10th-place finish in the giant slalom World Cup opener in Soelden, Austria, and a fifth-place finish in slalom in Levi, Finland, wasn’t happy with Sunday’s 13th-place finish.

“I’m really happy with the results of my teammates but disappointed with mine,” said Gagnon, who clocked a two-run combined time of 2:19.57. “The first run was quite good but I lost a lot of time on the bottom and I did the same in the second run.”

Sweden’s Jessica Lindell-Vikarby took the win Sunday with a two-run combined time of 2:17.92. USA phenom Mikaela Shiffrin was second (2:18.01) and Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather was third (2:18.48). Following Sunday’s results Gagnon is ranked tied for 10th overall in the World Cup standings, which are led by Switzerland’s Lara Gut. Shiffrin sits second.

Hugues Ansermoz, head coach of Canada’s ladies’ team, was delighted to see both Préfontaine and Mielzynski achieve breakthrough results.

“For ‘MP’ (Préfontaine) it was a great day. In the second run she skied smart and attacked when she needed to attack,” said Ansermoz. “For Erin that was incredible. It’s tough when you ski from the back.

“This result shows the team is growing. We have invested a lot of time and energy into giant slalom and it shows the great work that has been done by (coach) Jim Pollock.”

Pollock, the technical head coach, said a solid training block in Vail, Colorado, created the foundations for a successful day of racing.

“We prepared really well and the girls came in and performed well,” Pollock said. “Erin has been skiing pretty well in giant slalom and we kept at it. We knew MP was ‘on’ in training and she just needed to stay calm. Mitch (Gagnon) was disappointed but she’s close to winning a race. You can tell.”

Mikaela Tommy, of Wakefield, Que., did not finish her first run.

Next up for the ladies are Nor-Am Cup giant slalom and slalom races in Loveland, Colorado. Gagnon and Préfontaine are also set to race in the World Cup super-G In Lake Louise, Alta., on Sunday, Dec. 8.
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