Riesch finishes Games with double the gold
WHISTLER, B.C. - Maria Riesch proved once again that she is the world's best slalom skier ... only this time it happened while most of the world was watching and she said it was the best day of her life.
The tall, graceful German tackled two tricky, sticky runs in Whistler Friday to close out the women's Olympic alpine races, coming out on top each time to win her second Olympic gold medal in a combined time of 1 minute, 42.89 seconds.
As large, wet snowflakes fell heavily out of the foggy sky and deep ruts formed in the course, bouncing several racers around in the second run, Marlies Schild hit another crescendo in her incredible comeback season with a silver medal, putting down the fastest second run time (51.92 seconds) and finishing 0.43 behind Riesch for the silver, her third Olympic medal (bronze in the Torino slalom and silver in the Torino combined).
Also, The Czech Republic's Sarka Zahrobska became the first athlete in history to put her country on the map in Olympic alpine racing, coming through with the bronze, 1.01 seconds off the winning pace.
"I just can't describe it ... how good it feels," said Riesch, who fell onto the backs of her skis laughing in the finish area when she saw that she'd won a second gold. "The speed events were not so good for me. In the GS, I was not really hoping for a medal. To win a gold medal in super-combined was good, I wasn't expecting that. After this, to win gold in slalom on purpose ... it's just incredible."
Schild, who wasn't sure she'd be able to truly compete when she started this season following 11 months off skis after breaking her leg in Soelden last season, was also thrilled to come back, focusing solely on slalom and showing herself and everyone else that she is still good enough not only to win World Cup races but also Olympic medals.
"It was really hard for me to come here and know that I had just one chance. To think that I have just one chance, just one race, that was really hard in the beginning," Schild said about coming into the Games. "It's a great thing to get a silver medal. I'm really happy with that, to get this after my injury."
It was clear in the second run - the final race of the women's Olympic alpine events - that none of the ladies were holding anything back.
Italian Denise Karbon came down fourth and shot nearly a second into the lead. Three racers later, her teammate Manuela Moelgg made the race more than a second faster.
Possibly the most astonishing result all day came from double bronze medalist Elisabeth Goergl, who came into these Games not even planning to race slalom - her weakest discipline. She shaved off another 0.34 seconds and nobody could catch her until French slalom specialist Sandrine Aubert, a whopping 15 racers later. Goergl ended up seventh and Aubert fifth. Goergl's run was the second fastest of the day, 0.04 seconds slower that Schild's.
Swede Marie Pietlilae-Holmner held her fast pace (fifth going into the second run) but ended up just out of the medals in fourth while Susanne Riesch, fourth coming into the final leg of the race, held her lead in spite of an early stumble in the second run, but straddled a gate coming into the homestretch. Clearly upset, she sat on the snow and covered her face.
The elder Riesch sister said the emotions of her family (both Mr. and Mrs. Riesch were there in the crowd) swung to both extremes - joy for her gold and sympathy for Susanne's abruptly quelled medal run.
"She was on her way to a medal. It's hard because it's the best day of my life but for her the whole world is breaking down," Maria Riesch said. "It's not easy. Maybe tonight we can go out for a beer. For her it's best to get this day [behind her] as soon as possible."
Although she ended her race much earlier than planned, straddling a gate in the first run, Riesch's best friend Lindsey Vonn stood in the snow waiting to congratulate her friend after the second run when Riesch won the gold medal.
"I'm so happy for her" said Vonn, who walked out of the finish area pausing for photos and signing autographs. "She did an amazing job and to come down after the first run and really ski as well as she did under these conditions was really cool to watch."
Most of the Olympic female alpine racers will return to Europe immediately to prepare for the final two weeks of the World Cup season.
Olympic alpine racing wraps up Saturday with men's slalom.
- by Shauna Farnell