Poutiainen poised for Games after Cortina GS win
CORTINA D'AMPEZZO, Italy - Anyone worried that Tanja Poutiainen might be falling out of contention or in poor health need not worry any longer. The Finn won her first race since the season opener in Soelden on Sunday, taking the giant slalom in Cortina by more than a second. She finished in a combined time of 2 minutes, 26.41 seconds.
"It was a great day for me," said Poutiainen, who was just .02 seconds out of the lead after the first run. "I started my season really strong in Soelden and Levi was really good. Then I had some problems with my back and it was kind of tough to come back. I was not where I expected to be. Now I'm there again and I feel really good."
As for her victory, Poutiainen said her comeback couldn't have come at a better time, right before the Olympics. She had two bronze medals in GS and slalom at last season's world championships in Val d'Isère, two silvers in 2005 and a silver in GS at the 2006 Torino Games. Needless to say, she is hungry for gold.
"It's good timing," she said of her win Sunday. "Now I just need to cool down, take a little rest and go overseas. The goal is for sure the medal. Victory I still don't have in the big games ... so that's my goal."
Austrian tech force Kathrin Zettel was leading after the first run, and it looked as if she might win her third straight race, but she slid out near the bottom of the second run and German Viktoria Rebensburg landed the first podium of her career in second (2:27.56) and her teammate, world GS champion Kathrin Hoelzl, rounded out the podium in 2:27.96.
Zettel, who has not DNFed in a race since last season in Ofterschwang and whose worst result in a tech event this season was a fifth place in the Lienz GS, said maybe things happen for a reason and the result will keep her humble before the Olympics.
"I tried to give my best in the second run but I had a problem with the rhythm," she said. "I tried to attack the last part but it didn't work, so I went out. But maybe it's good for the Olympics. I had such good races this year. It's a negative one ... but maybe it's good."
The Italian team proved once again that it is dominating the circuit in giant slalom, with five racers finishing in the top 15.
Manuela Moelgg was the frontrunner in fifth place (2:28.36) while Denise Karbon put down her best result since her third place in Soelden, finishing sixth (2:28.41) and Giulia Gianesini landed the first top 10 of her World Cup career in ninth (2:28.69), displaying some true Italian fire upon crossing the finish line, spinning her arm furiously beckoning more noise from the excited home crowd. The 12th place (2:28.97) was also a career best for Irene Curtoni and 13th (2:29.08) another solid result for Nicole Guis.
"We are a great team," Guis said. "We all go fast together in the last races. It was strange that we are all together in the first places. Today it was a sign of us. We will go better and better in the next races."
The day began with several racers eliminating themselves early on ... including top contenders like Anja Paerson, Tessa Worley and Taina Barioz. Many athletes said the snow was tricky because it was grippy on top but injected and icy on the bottom.
"The course is really nice but the snow is aggressive," Karbon said, adding that it is always a thrill to ski for the home audience in Cortina. "It's not easy to find a smooth turn. The skis are not always under control. We like the icy slopes. We have some problems because we turn a lot. We put the skis a lot on the edges ... we are aggressive on our style. The snow is fast and aggressive today and you have to ski smooth and not too aggressive."
The gate set presented another challenge for racers in the second run, as only 24 managed to finish the race. Canadian Shona Rubens, who squeezed into the second run in 30th place, ended up 23rd in spite of crashing onto her hip at the top of the second run, recovering, and finishing more than 8 seconds off the winning time.
"There's a few off-gates that maybe a lot of us didn't see in inspection," Rubens said. "The second run was tougher. There were a lot more rhythm changes in places that are unexpected. Looks like it's been pretty challenging for a lot of people. But the hill's amazing so you can't complain too much."
- by Shauna Farnell