Marlies Schild owns World Cup slalom opener in Aspen
ASPEN, Colo. – World Cup slalom champion Marlies Schild is right back to her usual ways in the tight gates. The Austrian veteran who has won all but one of the slalom races she’s finished since the 2010 Olympic Games (where she earned silver in slalom), added one more victory to her long list, smoking the field in the season opening World Cup slalom race Sunday in Aspen.
Schild, who also won the slalom gold medal in the World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen last year, put her lead down in the first run Sunday, beating most of the field down the steep course by more than a second even though she took a pole in the chin at one point. At the end of the day, only last season’s Aspen slalom champion Maria Pietilae-Holmner and Maria Hoefl-Riesch came within two seconds of the Austrian’s winning time.
“I’m so happy with this result today. The first race is not easy. You’re always thinking, ‘was my training good enough? Are my skis good?’ But I think everything is fine so far,” Schild said.
The Austrian won with a combined time of 1 minute, 43.72 seconds, while Pietilae-Holmner took the second step of the podium, 1.19 seconds back and Hoefl-Riesch the third, 1.96 seconds back. In spite of crushing the course the first run, too, Schild said she never lets an early lead go to her head, especially when it’s the first slalom race of the season on a slope much tougher than Levi, where the slalom tour usually begins.
“I always just have to give my best and not think about by how much I’m in front,” Schild said. “It’s a very tough course in Aspen, it’s not easy from the start to the finish. You have to work all the way down. It’s more difficult than in Levi, but in the end, every race is difficult to win.”
Sunday was one of the many times Schild made it look easy. Even Pietilae-Holmner, who landed her first World Cup victory in the Aspen slalom last year when Schild made an unfortunate mistake out of the start house, straddling the first gate, said a deficit like the one she had behind Schild going into the second run is difficult to overcome.
“With eight-tenths after the first run … it’s too much. I can’t do anything when she’s skiing this good,” the Swede said. “But there’s more races to come and I will try to beat her. A victory last year and a second place this year in Aspen … I’m not complaining.”
Racers described the snow as grippy and aggressive and the sun shined on the first run, which featured a course set by Germany and which eliminated 19 racers. The sun fell behind the mountain for run No. 2, set by Finland, and dark shadows fell.
Following her World Cup overall victory last year, Hoefl-Riesch has had a rough start to this season, making some mistakes in the season opening giant slalom in Soelden and finishing 24th, then nearly crashing and taking a DNF in Saturday’s GS in Aspen. She said a podium finish does huge things for her confidence.
“I wasn’t 100-percent confident coming into today,” she said. “I was nervous about going out and having zero points again. I’m happy with my result.”
Hoefl-Riesch was more than a second out after the first run Sunday, while Pietilae-Holmner and Finland’s Tanja Poutiainen were each about eight-tenths of a second back. Poutiainen was burning down the second run but made a mistake about halfway down and finished fourth, 2.06 seconds off the winning time. Austria’s Kathrin Zettel was fifth, 2.58 seconds back, Slovakia’s Veronika Zuzulova sixth, 2.65 seconds back and Italian Manuela Moelgg seventh, 2.87 seconds back.
One of the most impressive performances of the day was that of 16-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin, the only American to finish the race. The Colorado skier who is new to the World Cup not only gained her first points Sunday but finished eighth.
“I was really nervous before the first run. My coaches and mom and dad were saying, ‘just breathe. Just breathe and ski.’ The second run I felt a lot more calm,” Shriffin said. “It’s a big confidence booster knowing I can ski with these girls.”
Lindsey Vonn pulled out of Sunday’s slalom. U.S. Ski Team affiliates said her back is feeling sore and stiff and she preferred focusing on this week’s speed events in Lake Louise. Julia Mancuso, who was third in Saturday’s GS but who doesn’t spend much time training in the tight gates, was 32nd after the first run Sunday and thus missed the second run cut.
The Audi FIS ladies World Cup continues Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Lake Louise, Alberta with two downhill races and a super G.
By Shauna Farnell