Vonn, other American women flop in Aspen slalom
November 29, 2009
ASPEN – An hour after a second consecutive World Cup washout, Lindsey Vonn was smiling and chatty, betraying no worries about her form or preparation, revealing no concerns about what she chalked up as one bad weekend.
Instead, she complained about the course conditions at the only U.S. stop on the women’s circuit. Vonn skidded off-course less than halfway down the hill in the first run of a slalom Sunday, 24 hours after she failed to qualify for the second run of a giant slalom.
“It’s just a little bit too icy for the girls. I don’t think it does anyone a service to have it this difficult. It doesn’t look good on TV,” said Vonn, who lives in nearby Vail.
“It’s essentially like pond ice,” she added. “It’s like ice skating, and it becomes – it’s not ski racing anymore.”
Sarka Zahrobska of the Czech Republic won the Aspen slalom for the second consecutive year, while Vonn and all six of her American teammates were out of contention. The U.S. Ski Team said it was the first time since Jan. 27, 2008, at Ofterschwang, Germany, that American women entered a World Cup slalom and none reached the second round.
Not exactly a performance that will inspire confidence moving forward, particularly with the Vancouver Olympics less than three months away.
Asked to assess Sunday’s showing, U.S. Ski Team women’s coach Jim Tracy called it “embarrassing.” And then he repeated that word for emphasis.
“No excuses,” Tracy said. “We just didn’t ski the way we were supposed to ski, simple as that.”
While racers from various countries echoed Vonn’s concerns about the state of the slope, Tracy discarded that explanation for his skiers’ performance.
“We train on it. We have trained on it. We just didn’t mentally do what we needed to do today,” the coach said. “Sorry. The brutal truth.”
Chief of race Jim Hancock, in charge of building and maintaining the course, acknowledged the piste was “extremely hard” and “slick,” but called it fair.
Zahrobska certainly thought so. She finished her two runs in 1 minute, 43.45 seconds and agreed that the course was “really icy,” before noting, “but I like it.” She’s never won a World Cup race anywhere else.
Marlies Schild of Austria was the runner-up, 0.58 back. Schild recently returned to the World Cup circuit, 13 months after breaking her left leg in a training crash.
“It’s a big surprise,” said Schild, who won two medals at the 2006 Turin Olympics. “I had a hard year the last year, with my injury, with everything. I did not know if it would work again as well as it did before. It worked really good today.”
Kathrin Zettel of Austria was third, a day after finishing second in the giant slalom, and she leads the overall World Cup standings.
Vonn, who won the last two overall titles, stands ninth right now after never contending this weekend.
In Saturday’s giant slalom, her right ski hit a rock early in the first run, and while Vonn stayed upright and made it to the bottom of the course, her time was good enough only for 39th place. The top 30 move on to the second run.
After that setback, Vonn went out later in the day to practice for Sunday’s slalom, but things didn’t go any better. She skidded off course amid a cloud of snow.
“It’s been a disappointing weekend,” Vonn said. “Obviously, it wasn’t what I was hoping for, and I think it wasn’t what the U.S. fans were hoping for.”
She was one of 24 racers who didn’t finish Sunday’s opening run, including Alexandra Daum of Austria, who tore a knee ligament and is expected to be done for the season.
Denise Karbon, a two-time medalist for Italy at the world championships, did not start the slalom because of a right knee injury that probably will require surgery.
The other six American entrants completed the course, but their placings were too poor to advance to the second run: No. 34 Kaylin Richardson, No. 35 Hailey Duke, No. 37 Julia Mancuso, No. 39 Sarah Schleper, No. 40 Sterling Grant, No. 44 Julia Ford.
Tracy, though, cautioned that no one should read too much into Sunday’s results.
“One race doesn’t make a season,” he said. “We’re a lot better than what we showed today.”