Preview: Ladies slalom

26 February 2010 17:54

The women's Alpine program at Whistler Creekside concludes with the slalom, the next-to-last Alpine race. The first run of the ladies slalom is scheduled for 10 a.m. local time, with the second run at 1:30 p.m.

The slalom consists of two runs on courses set by delegates of two nations selected in a drawing prior to the Games. The skier with the fastest composite time is the winner.

The Olympic alpine skiing program will finish after the men's slalom on Saturday. No race is scheduled for Sunday, when the closing ceremony will take place.


Medal contenders

Slalom specialist Maria Riesch of Germany, who is currently top of the World Cup standings for slalom and reigning World slalom champion, has the chance to upstage the American speed queen and best friend Lindsey Vonn. By adding Friday's slalom gold to her super-combined title, an event comprising a downhill followed by a slalom, Riesch can confirm her superiority having won four consecutive World Cup slalom events during the 2008-09 season. This season the 5-foot-11 German finished first in the World Cup slalom in Levi, Finland and stood on the podium three times in her six subsequent slalom races.

The big Bavarian star will be joined by her younger sister, Susanne, who has achieved her first two podium finishes this season.

The 18-time career slalom winner Anja Paerson of Sweden and defending Olympic slalom champion, will focus on winning a medal in slalom, after her bronze in super-combined. Paerson, who suffered severe bruising in a spectacular downhill crash, surprised everyone when she took third in super combined the day after the fall. It was her sixth Olympic medal, equaling the record set by the now-retired Janica Kostelic of Croatia. However,

Paerson's last podium in slalom came three years ago, as she has placed more emphasis on speed events in recent years. The Swede is planning to retire at the end of this season.

Another medal challenger for Friday's ladies slalom is Austrian Kathrin Zettel, who is only 23-points behind Riesch in the World Cup standings for slalom. She is coming off a successful January weekend in Maribor, Slovenia, where she won both a giant slalom and a slalom.

Frenchwoman Sandrine Aubert could join Zettel in testing Riesch to the full. Aubert has made a legitimate claim to the slalom crown carving out four World Cup victories this season, all in slalom, including the prestigious event in Zagreb in January. The 27-year-old appears to have enough confidence on her side, something that is tantamount to success in slalom.

Austria's Marlies Schild is back strong this season with two wins and a second place finish in another after having missed the season 2008/09 completely due to a broken her leg injury sustained in training. She holds the record for the most victories by an active Alpine skier in any one discipline; in December this year, she posted her 19th World Cup slalom victory at Lienz, Austria. Having won bronze at the 2006 Torino Games, the girlfriend of men's Alpine star Benjamin Raich aims to upgrade in 2010.

Several other technical specialists should be included in the medal discussion. Sarka Zahrobska of the Czech Republic and Tanja Poutiainen of Finland finished two-three behind Riesch at the most recent Worlds. In fact, Zahrobska has won the last two World Cup slaloms held on North American snow, in Aspen in 2008 and 2009.

Although America's Lindsey Vonn has improved in slalom over the years, capturing her first World Cup victory in the event in November 2008 and winning another slalom race in 2009, she was always considered an outside medals bet for the Olympic slalom races even before crashing out of the giant slalom two days ago. When she fell during the first run on Wednesday,

Vonn suffered a broken right pinkie finger, probably reducing her medal chances in that event even more. She has struggled in slalom leading up to the Olympics, ranking 13th in the standings after finishing third last season.


Challenging weather and conditions expected

Periods of snow with areas of fog, giving way to rain at noon, are predicted for Friday, the day of the ladies Olympic slalom.

In the course of these Olympics, bad weather has forced a series of postponements and schedule changes at Whistler. Most recently, the two-run women's giant slalom, which was supposed to be completed Wednesday, was split over two days with the second run being moved to Thursday.

Changes to the program of Alpine events at the Olympics due to weather-related problems are nothing and surprisingly there has never been an Alpine event canceled altogether. As Olympic history shows, there have been several delays and schedule changes, also at the 2006 Turin Games, when the ladies super-G race was pushed back 24 hours, and the combined event was split over two days. At the 1998 Nagano Olympics, weather forced organizers to hold nine races in 10 days, on some days racing more than one race per day.


Medal standings


Alpine Skiing medal standings after 8 events (4 men's, 4 ladies)

1 USA 2 3 3 8
2 SUI 2   1 3
3 GER 2     2
4 NOR 1 2 1 4
5 AUT 1   2 3
6 SLO   2   2
7 CRO   1   1
8 SWE     1 1



Weather forecast

Precipitation from a strong pacific frontal system has arrived on schedule and will continue all day into tonight.
Areas of fog are also once again expected to form today. The effects of this disturbance will linger into saturday with lesser amounts of precipitation on tap with fog also continuing throughout the day.

5 day trend.
A gradual trend towards drier weather is anticipated on sunday as a weak high pressure ridge moves over the south coast mountains. This ridge may be large enough to keep conditions relatively dry on monday. However another pacific disturbance will push the ridge away by monday night with precipitation expected across the region on tuesday.

Periods of snow. Areas of fog.
Snowfall amount 10 to 15 cm.
Alpine high minus 1.
Freezing level near 800 metres rising to 1500 metres this afternoon.
Mountain top winds southeast 30 km/h increasing to 40 gusting to 70 km/h this morning.

Periods of snow easing to flurries overnight.
Snowfall amount 5 cm.
Alpine low minus 3.
Freezing level 1500 metres lowering to 1300 metres by morning.
Mountain top winds southeast 40 km/h reducing to 20 km/h


Schedule for remaining Alpine skiing events

Saturday, Feb 27:
* Men's slalom, 1st run at 10:00 local time
* Men's slalom, 2nd run at 13:45 local time