U.S. team looking to improve after mixed results | AspenTimes.com

U.S. team looking to improve after mixed results

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Both days of World Cup ski racing on Aspen Mountain this weekend were perfect for racing, sunny and cool, but for the U.S. women, only Friday was a nice day.

In the super G event, three American women placed in the top 10 and one, Kirsten Clark of Raymond, Maine, just missed landing with the top three European racers on the podium.

Finishing fourth in “the first super G of the season is a great confidence booster,” said Clark, who will be racing next weekend in Lake Louise, Canada. “I am going to look to Lake Louise to start the downhill off on the same note that I have in giant slalom and super G.”

But America’s slalom racers will be looking to race to a new tune. None of the four American women qualified for the second round of Saturday’s slalom.

“This was the worst disappointment in ski racing, when you don’t make a second run,” said Marjan Cernigoj, the U.S. women’s head coach.

Cernigoj said a decision by officials to inject water into the upper section of the course ? creating icy conditions ? apparently intimidated his skiers.

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“I believe they were afraid of the icy course,” he said. “I think they were nervous when they inspected it.

“Racers have to cope with whatever. You’ve got to attack the course, not ski defensively. They did not warm up well on the top. They were not confident in their skills today.”

Two skiers in the first seed ? Kristina Koznick and Sarah Schleper ? had disappointing first runs.

Koznick, who skis independently out of Burnsville, Minn., got wide on a gate about two-thirds of the way down and did not finish.

This was especially disappointing, as Koznick finished second in the World Cup slalom competition last year and placed third in the slalom event in Aspen in 2000.

Schleper, of Vail, also missed a gate. She hiked back up the hill but finished at 55.24 seconds and did not qualify among the top 30 racers for the second run.

The other two Americans in the event ? Julia Mancuso of Olympic Valley, Calif., and Caroline Lalive of Steamboat Springs ? also failed to qualify for the second heat.

It was a different story in the one-run super G event on Friday.

Clark finished fourth, just .06 seconds off the podium. Lalive finished ninth and Jonna Mendes of Heavenly, Calif., finished 10th.

“I gave it everything I had and skied really well,” said Mendes. “I charged just as hard as I possibly could, I can’t really ask that much more of myself. I am going to be happy for this 10th because I would have killed to have gotten 10th last year when I just having a really tough time.”

And Mendes, like many other skiers, really enjoyed the super G course on Aspen Mountain.

“I really like it,” she said. “It was the most fun I’ve ever had on a super G course. I really had a blast.”

Jim Tracy, the U.S. women’s downhill and super G coach, said he’s been pushing Mendes to go for the podium.

“This is a good start for her, for sure,” he said. “She came into the springtime and we had a little bit different focus for her and that was that we are not going to be satisfied with 15th to 20th places. It is just not acceptable anymore.”

He was also happy with the performances turned in by Lalive and Clark.

“I am obviously really, really pleased with the effort by all the racers today,” he said. “To do well here can very easily set the tone for the whole season.”

Also for the U.S. team, Mancuso finished 17th, Libby Ludlow of Bellevue, Wash., finished 29th and Katie Monahan of Aspen finished a disappointing 31st.

Tracy said the focus for the American team heading into Lake Louise is to get on the podium.

“We are going to win ski races,” Tracy said. “It’s pretty simple.”

[The Associated Press contributed to this story.]

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is bgs@aspentimes.com]

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