SOELDEN, AUT (Oct. 24) - Two-time World Cup overall champion Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO), kicked off the Olympic season in Austria Saturday matching her previous year's results in Soelden with a solid ninth place GS finish in the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup opener. The finish will be the first of many as the World Champion looks to defend her title in 2010.
Finnish racer Tanja Poutianen won the race just .01 seconds ahead of Austrian Kathrin Zettel. Denise Karbon of Italy was third.
With over 5,000 fans at the glacier cheering her on, Vonn, who had finished eighth in the first run, skied consistently and was happy to match her Soelden finish from last season.
"I'm just out there trying to do the best I can every day," said Vonn. "In GS, all that's important is that I get to the finish and I get some points and stay ahead of the right people. It's in the speed disciplines that I go really fast and hopefully get some big points."
According to Vonn, while her finish was consistent, she has made strides in GS that should be visible throughout the season.
"I think I've made some progress with GS," she said. "You may not have seen it today, but I'm training well," Vonn said. "I just need to get some more miles on the equipment. But I definitely haven't lost anything. The equipment (Head) is working very well and if anything I think I'm skiing much better."
Vonn, who will head to her hometown of Vail, CO to train, has her sights set firmly on the slalom in Levi, Finland where she won her first World Cup slalom last season.
Sarah Schleper (Vail, CO) just made the finals finishing 30th in the first run. Schleper missed an opportunity to capitalize on having a clean course, but was happy to be in the points in 24th. After missing the 2007 and 2008 World Cup season's from injury and the birth of her son Lasse, Schleper is in outstanding shape and focused on making her fourth Olympics.
Olympic champion Julia Mancuso (Olympic Valley, CA), who finished 21st in the first run, was also looking poised to compete for a top finishing spot. After one of the best intervals near the start, Mancuso got caught up on a right turn and went out.
According to Mancuso, some equipment issues and confidence had a lot to do with how she finished Saturday. She switched skis between runs to a shorter pair hoping to capitalize on more mobility on the turny Soelden course.
"I'm still a little confused on what skis to race on. I have some longer ones and some shorter ones," Mancuso said. "The first run was solid, not super fast - it was OK. But I felt a lot better going into the second run. I went out and had a good start. But, it's tough to get confidence back after my season last year."
Austrian Nicole Hosp, who won the overall title three seasons ago, went down hard in the second run. According to the Austrian Team, she was airlifted to a hospital where she underwent right knee surgery and is expected to be out for the season. Hosp is the last women to win the World Cup overall title prior to Vonn's back-to-back titles.
The 2010 Audi FIS Alpine World Cup opener continues in Soelden on Sunday. Watch live on UniversalSports.com. Plus, you can follow updates and features on Twitter.com/usskiteam and Facebook.com/usskiteam.
2010 AUDI FIS ALPINE WORLD CUP
Soelden, Austria - Oct. 24, 2009
Women's Giant Slalom
1. Tanja Poutianen, Finland, 2:24.96
2. Kathrin Zettel, Austria, 2:24.97
3. Denise Karbon, Italy, 2:25.28
4. Tina Maze, Slovenia, 2:25.80
5. Maria Pietilae-Holmner, Sweden, 2:25.84
6. Anja Paerson, Sweden, 2:25.91
7. Kathrin Hoelzl, Germany, 2:26.16
8. Viktoria Rebensburg, Germany, 2:26.28
9. Lindsey Vonn, Vail, CO, 2:26.35
10. Camilla Alfieri, Italy, 2:26.43
24. Sarah Schleper, Vail, CO, 2:29.61
41. Resi Stiegler, Jackson Hole, WY, 1:17.09
51. Jessica Kelley, Starksboro, VT, 1:17.90
DNF1: Megan McJames, Park City, UT
DNF2: Julia Mancuso, Olympic Valley, CA
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photos Janos Schmidt