It didn't take long for double World Champion Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO) to find her way back to the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup podium as the two-time overall winner finished second to friend and reigning World Cup slalom champion Maria Riesch of Germany Saturday.
"I really love Levi, this hill reminds me so much of racing back in Buck Hill," said Vonn, who finished 3rd in the World Cup slalom standings last season in addition to capturing World Cup titles in downhill and super G. "It would have been nice to get the win again, but I had a big mistake at the bottom and Maria had a really good run so it's tough to say if I would have beat her without that mistake."
Near the bottom of the course Vonn boot-topped a gate and was nearly knocked off course, yet made a stunning recovery and maintained her composure to finish a mere .08 behind Riesch.
"Lindsey hasn't missed a beat, she's pretty incredible," said U.S. Ski Team women's technical Head Coach Trevor Wagner. "But the win was there for sure. She was nuking the second run and just had a number of tiny mistakes that added up. Still what she's doing right now in slalom is awesome."
Universal Sports will broadcast the race at 10 a.m. ET on its 24-hour TV network and on-demand streaming is available later Saturday at www.UniversalSports.com.
It was her second consecutive trip to the Levi podium after notching her first World Cup slalom victory on the Levi Black course just one year ago. Finnish favorite and Soelden giant slalom winner Tanja Poutianen rounded out the top three.
"This gives me awesome confidence going into the Aspen Winternational in a few weeks," said Vonn, who finished 4th in the Aspen slalom last season. "My slalom skis are feeling really good and until you race you don't really have a measure for how you're doing against the other girls so I'm pretty happy to be on the podium.
"I'm headed back to Vail now too get in some more slalom and GS training before Aspen. It's so cool t have that slope as a resource and I know the whole team has been and will be using it to prepare for the Colorado races. It's really evident after today that the training I was able to get in Vail was really valuable."
Hailey Duke (Boise, ID) and Kaylin Richardson (Edina, MN) added to the strong U.S. Ski Team showing in biting 15 degree cold finishing 21st and 23rd respectively. Sarah Schleper (Vail, CO) nearly joined the American points party after finishing 16th in the opening leg before being disqualified for missing the sixth gate.
"The U.S. Ski Team is skiing so well," added Vonn. I'm so proud of what Kaylin, Hailey and Sarah did today and Resi and Sterling have been working so hard. This is a really strong technical team and I think we're going to show that in Aspen."
At just over 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Levi is dark much of the day with a small window of light falling between the 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. locally making a lighted second run an absolute necessity. Yet the lights reflection off the frozen air particles created for tricky visibility.
"Sarah would have been in there too, but she blew right by that gate on the top," added Wagner. "We looked at the tape a couple of times and she definitely missed it, but through the entire midsection of the course, she had some of the best skiing out there."
The results backed up Wagner's thoughts that the Team has been training very well and is poised to make a surge in SL and GS. Duke had been in contention much of last season in slalom scoring points in five races, including a career best 8th in Semmering, Austria, but it was Richardson's first World Cup technical points since the 2007 Aspen Winternational.
"Hailey did a great job. She was skiing with a sore ankle and battled through that really well and we saw great skiing out of Kaylin. It's never easy to rally into the flip from that far back in the start order and both she and Sarah did it."
Schleper and Richardson started the race wearing bibs 58 and 70. Stiegler, who turned 24 today, missed the top 30 after the first run along with Sterling Grant (Amery, WI). It was only the second World Cup race for Stiegler since a Dec. 2007 injury.
"The skiing is there for Resi. She's been training well and knows she's capable of a lot better, but this is only her second World Cup in two years. It's a progression," Wagner said.
The Team now flies immediately to Colorado for a training block prior to the Aspen Winternational set for Thanksgiving Weekend in Aspen, CO. The annual Rocky Mountain stop is the only women's World Cup race in America for the Vancouver Bound U.S. Ski Team prior to the February Olympics.
2009 AUDI FIS ALPINE WORLD CUP
Levi, Finland – Nov. 14, 2009
1. Maria Riesch, Germany, 1.48.71
2. Lindsey Vonn, Vail, CO, 1:48.79
3. Tanja Poutianen, Finland, 1:49.87
4. Susanne Riesch, Germany, 1:50.04
5. Michaela Kirchgasser, Austria, 1:50.32
21. Hailey Duke, Boise, ID, 1:52.30
23. Kaylin Richardson, Edina, MN, 1:52.31
Did not qualify for a second run
Resi Stiegler, Jackson Hole, WY; Sterling Grant, Amery, WI
Sarah Schleper, Vail, CO
photos Janos Schmidt