LEVI, Finland-Reigning Olympic slalom gold medalist and World Champion Maria Riesch of Germany let over a half second lead slip Saturday as Austrian Marlies Schild captured the opening slalom of the 2011 Audi FIS Alpine World Cup season. Three-time World Cup overall champion Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO) went down on her hip mid-run, yet made an athletic recovery to finish sixth and secure valuable early season points.
Complete action from Levi is available for on-demand streaming at www.UniversalSports.com.
Vonn hammered the top portion of the slope before her skis slid wide and enganged hard on a right hand turn midway down the Levi Black steeps dropping the Olympic gold medalist to her hip and sending her rocketing across the slope. The countless hours of off-season strength training paid off as she made a strong recovery to stay on course, regain her balance and continue to charge.
"I'd say that mistake cost me eight tenths to a full second," said Vonn. "I've never made a recovery move like I made today and that is directly attributed to the fitness training that I did this summer and the different exercises I've been doing. Just my overall agility is better and I'm happy I was able to stick with it and get some important points toward the overall."
"Lindsey came out of that hairpin with a huge amount of speed and just got a little out of balance," added women's tech Head Coach Trevor Wagner. "That snow was so grippy that if you enganged the ski at all, you'd get shot out on your tails and that's what happened to her. That was an amazing recovery. She was so far off line and pulled it back together. Without that mistake, she would have been right in there. It was an incredible performance."
Despite the finish, Vonn missed the Levi podium for the first time in three years after landing second there a year ago and winning the event in 2008. Though, the underlining story from Levi may very well be the German women's technical team as eight women crowded the top 30, adding to their incredible performance in Soelden where Germany went 1-2 with three in the top 5.
With temps hovering just above 15 degrees and light rapidly fading throughout the second run, Schild punished the slope to climb from fifth to the win in a two-run combined time of 1:52.84, .03 in front of Riesch.
It was Schild's second consecutive World Cup slalom win adding to her victory at the 2010 World Cup Finals in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany – home of the 2011 World Championships in February. Finn favorite and local hero Tanja Poutiainen hopped one spot in the second run to cap the women's podium.
The grippy snow caused havoc for later starters including Sarah Schleper (Vail, CO), Megan McJames (Park City, UT) and Hailey Duke (Boise, ID) as all three other American starters finished outside the first run top 30.
"Sarah definitely had a good opportunity, but just skied impaitent and too direct on the steeps," said Wagner. "She could have popped one in there easily with the way she was skiing up top. The snow was really grippy and kind of chattery. If you tried to cut the turn off at all, you paid the price for it."
"The snow was actually great, it was just a little bit more aggressive than we anticipated," added Vonn. "I think everyone's skis where a little bit too sharp, which is a good problem to have. We've got a final training block in Vail for the next couple of weeks and then we head over to Aspen for Thanksgiving and onto Lake Louise. It's going to be an exciting couple of weeks in North America."
The U.S. Ski Team will now return to Colorado for two more weeks of training before the World Cup season begins en force with the annual Aspen Winternational Thanksgiving weekend in Aspen, CO.
Action in Levi continues Sunday with men's slalom featuring Olympic gold medalists Bode Miller (Franconia, NH) and Ted Ligety (Park City, UT). Universal Sports will have live streaming of the race starting at 4 a.m. ET on www.UniversalSports.com.
2011 Audi FIS Alpine World Cup
Levi, Finland – Nov. 13, 2011
1. Marlies Schild, Austria, 1:52.84
2. Maria Riesch, Germany, 1:52.87
3. Tanja Poutiainen, Finland, 1:53.18
4. Susanne Riesch, Germany, 1:53.58
5. Nicole Hosp, Austria, 1:53.68
6. Lindsey Vonn, Vail, CO, 1:53.79
DNQ 2nd Run: Sarah Schelper, Vail, CO; Megan McJames, Park City, UT; Hailey Duke, Boise, ID
photos Janos Schmidt