It's a home victory for Michaela Kirchgasser in slalom final

17 March 2012 09:08

SCHLADMING, Austria – The overflowing crowd in Schladming was roaring for slalom queen Marlies Schild to win the final race on Saturday, but were just as happy – if not more so – when another hometown girl landed the victory.

Michaela Kirschgasser, who had dozens of friends and family from 20 kilometers down the road cheering her on, closed out the 2012 slalom season with her second career victory, winning with a combined time of 1 minute, 32.57 seconds. Veronika Zuzulova, who led the race after the first run, was once again denied her first career victory (and the first for Slovakia), dropping to second place for the 13th podium of her Cup career, just 0.12 seconds from the win.

Marlies Schild, who earned the slalom title – the fourth of her career – several weeks ago, wraps up the slalom season with 760 points as Kirchgasser jumps to second in the standings, finishing with 452 and Tina Maze – 13th in the final race – drops to third place with 413 points.

“I didn’t have my best skiing today, but I got my third place and the overall globe … and I think it’s good if other girls win, too,” said an always gracious Schild. “The last races were not easy for me. I have still work to do for next season.”

Schild wraps up this season with eight slalom podiums, including six victories. Her only non-podium slalom races were in Kranjska Gora, where she missed a gate, and last weekend in Are, when she struggled with finding a rhythm and finished sixth. Kirchgasser, who turns 27 on Sunday, stepped up to win the Kranjska race, which was the first slalom win of her Cup career. Saturday’s victory, however, meant a lot more, because not only can people no longer speculate that she only won in Kranjska because Schild went out – but a victory in front of the 10,000-plus fans at home was truly glorious.

“It’s amazing. There’s such a crowd here, the noise … it’s unbelievable,” Kirschgasser said. “I love to get the victory here. Now for some people it’s really the victory. I’m really satisfied and happy and crazy.”

Zuzulova had mixed feelings about notching yet another second place, but Saturday’s second place wasn’t as heartbreaking as last weekend’s in Are, where she lost the race to Maria Hoefl-Riesch by 0.01 seconds.

“I take the situation like it is,” said Zuzulova, who announced that she will get married next month. “I lost it two times really close. But still, I think it’s positive for me. I can see that I can win. The second run today was not the same like the first, the snow is really spring snow. It’s not easy to race. I’m really happy with my season. The beginning was not the best, but the finish is perfect. I hope I start the next season like I finished this one.”

Lindsey Vonn, who secured the 2012 World Cup overall title – the fourth of her career – last weekend and was presented the super-combined title on Saturday – her third straight – was eighth on Saturday. This result moves her season point total up to 1980, which usurps Janica Kostelic for the most of any woman in World Cup history. Always looking for the next record to beat, however, Vonn is focused on the 2,000 mark – or 2,001, rather – which will one up Hermann Maier’s record.

“I am excited. I do care about beating Janica’s record,” Vonn said. “Slalom has been a struggle for me the last couple of years. I’ve gotten a couple of top 10s, so today was a good step for me. That was the goal to get a few points and make my job tomorrow a little easier. Tomorrow I’m going to go as hard as I can – I’m going to risk and also ski smart. I’m going to ski like Marcel [Hirscher … who won the final men’s GS race on Saturday and also the GS title].”

The Swedish team – cheered by freshly retired icon Anja Paerson in the finish area –ended the slalom season in remarkable fashion on Saturday, beginning with 19-year-old Emelie Wikstroem, who notched a World Cup career best of fourth place, 0.84 seconds back as teammate Therese Borssen landed fifth, 0.85 back. Canadian Marie-Michele Gagnon followed up her first career podium last weekend with another solid result, sixth in the final race and 0.98 seconds back as Austrian Kathrin Zettel – who lost her goggles in the first run – was seventh, 1.18 seconds back. Hoefl-Riesch tied Vonn for eighth place, 1.39 seconds back, and Sweden’s Anna Swenn-Larsson followed up last weekend’s first top 10 result with another on Saturday in 10th, 1.67 seconds back.

The 2011-2012 Audi FIS World Cup season wraps up Sunday with women’s giant slalom and men’s slalom.

Go here for video interviews with Kirchgasser, Schild and Zuzulova.

by Shauna Farnell

Go here for full race results.