Czech skier repeats in Aspen Winternational slalom | AspenTimes.com

Czech skier repeats in Aspen Winternational slalom

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Sarka Zahrobska, of the Czech Republic, celebrates on the podium after winning the women's World Cup slalom ski race Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009, in Aspen, Colo. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

ASPEN – In Saturday’s Winternational giant slalom, Sarka Zahrobska caught an edge, fell and barreled into a row of orange safety netting.

On a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon, the 24-year-old Czech skier stood on top of the podium for a second straight year here after a near wire-to-wire slalom win.

Zahrobska, the fourth out of the starting gate, led her nearest competitor by more than 1 second after a confident first run on Aspen Mountain’s icy Lower Ruthies Run. The last racer on course during the afternoon, Zahrobska cruised past the finish line in a combined time of 1 minute, 43.45 seconds to seal the victory.

“I’m very happy, this is a very tough race,” said Zahrobska, whose win last year was her first on the World Cup circuit. “I don’t know why I’m so successful in Aspen, but I’m happy for it.

“I hope the people in [the Czech Republic] are happy. I hope they were watching on TV and crossing their fingers for me.”

Austrians Marlies Schild (1:44.03) and Kathrin Zettel (1:44.22) finished second and third, respectively, on a another disappointing day for the home team. While six French and six Germans competed in the second run, all six U.S. skiers failed to qualify. Minnesota’s Kaylin Richardson (58.04), the top American finisher, wound up 34th.

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Two-time World Cup Overall champion Lindsey Vonn missed a gate about midway through her run. One day earlier, she hit a rock that damaged her right ski and finished 36th.

Vonn was one of 26 in the 74-racer field to fail to qualify on an injected course that many thought was too hard and unforgiving. During one stretch early in the first run, four of five competitors did not make it to the finish. Later, four straight skied off course – among them Austria’s Alexandra Daum, who lost her balance and one ski as she fell and skidded head-first to a stop. She was later carted off the hill. The extent of her injuries was not known Sunday afternoon.

“It was pond ice,” Vonn said. “It was like ice skating. It’s not ski racing anymore.”

U.S. women’s coach Jim Tracy was not about to give his racers a pass.

“There were some slick spots up there for sure, but we’ve been on it before and we train on this stuff. It’s easy to say that, but to me it’s an excuse,” said Tracy, who noted that his squad trained with Zahrobska last week at Loveland.

“We just didn’t mentally do what we needed to do today. … I’m very disappointed. This is not an indication of how we ski and how we’ve been training. This is an embarrassing day for us.”

But a promising day for Schild, a 20-time World Cup winner who was sidelined for all of last season after breaking her left leg during preseason giant slalom training in Soelden, Austria.

She finished sixth in Nov. 14’s slalom in Levi, Finland – her first race since March 2008. In her last appearance in Aspen, Schild took second in downhill.

“It hurt a lot today after the first run. I still feel it, but I got second so it seems to be OK,” Schild said of her leg. “It’s hard. It works well in training, but racing is another thing. I have to get more self confidence. Today was another big step for that.”

Schild blistered the second run en route to posting the day’s fastest time. Zettel, second after the first run, could not trump her teammate.

Instead, the 23-year-old had to settle for her second podium in as many days and a spot on top of the International Ski Federation’s latest Overall rankings. Zettel, a six-time World Cup winner, finished second to Germany’s Kathrin Hoelzl in Saturday’s giant slalom.

Hoelzl failed to qualify for a second run Sunday. The Americans know that feeling well, and have not reached the podium here in five years and 11 races. Their best result of the weekend came from Julia Mancuso, who finished 13th Saturday.

“It’s sad,” said Mancuso, who was 37th Sunday. “It was challenging, but I felt like the conditions were actually pretty fair for everyone. It was the same conditions all around and if you make one mistake, It’s hard to get back into it. … If you’re skiing well, you can still be top three.”

After a lackluster weekend, Vonn is hoping to return to form and the podium next weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta. There’s reason to be optimistic: The 25-year-old Vail skier has won five times and finished in the top five in 10 of 13 races there since 2004.

“It’s a place to build my confidence back, to be happy again,” she said. “How fast you recover from a bad weekend like this really shows character.

“Today I had a tough time, but there’s nothing I can really do about it. … Hopefully my bad luck is done for the season.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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