Swiss Styger shows her stripes
For the first time since March 2004, Switzerland’s Nadia Styger is back on top of a women’s World Cup podium.
Styger jumped out of the super G starting gates early Friday on Aspen Mountain, increasing her advantage through the lower sections of the Ruthie’s Run course to put up a winning time of 1:13.77. She defeated Austria’s Michaela Dorfmeister by one-tenth of a second.
“This course is something for me,” said Styger, whose 27th birthday is Sunday. “It’s a little bit difficult, but I’m not so good where it’s too flat.”
Styger helped keep the powerful Austrians from sweeping a super G podium for the second consecutive week. Austria’s Andrea Fischbacher and Alexandra Meissnitzer finished in third and fourth, respectively.
Meissnitzer took home gold Sunday in Lake Louise, Alberta; Fischbacher won silver and Dorfmeister the bronze. For its efforts in the first super G of the season, Austria compiled 323 FIS Nation Cup team points, more than double those of its closest competitor, the United States (140).
The Austrians again showcased both depth and dominance Friday. Five Austrians cracked the top 10, and seven made the top 14.
It took just one competition for the Austrian women to erase a two-year podium drought in Aspen. It’s good to be back on top.
“It’s a good feeling, and I’m happy to be in the fold,” the 20-year-old Fischbacher said. “This is a great team, and I have learned much from them.”
The win is Styger’s first on the World Cup circuit since a super G in Sestriere, Italy, on March 11, 2004 ” the same venue that will host alpine events for February’s Turin Olympics.
American Kirsten Clark, on the same course where she came in fourth three years ago, finished in fifth on Friday, 0.71 seconds off the lead. Lindsey Kildow of Vail came in seventh.
Styger, the 10th skier on the course, set the pace. Her time of 19.77 seconds between intervals one and two was the fastest recorded all day. She maneuvered her way through the course’s more technical lower sections, staying close to gates and working hard to maintain her speed.
Once Styger had posted the fastest time, the waiting began. Forty-nine skiers had yet to take their turn on the hill.
“It was not easy [to wait],” said Styger, who stood in the finish area, anxiously eyeing the leader board. “I knew the fastest 20 were still to come, but I had a good feeling.”
U.S. veteran Caroline Lalive ” who followed Styger in the 11th position ” clipped a gate near the top of the course. She fell, injuring her left knee.
Fischbacher ” the 18th to race ” was the next skier to jeopardize Styger’s pole position. She pulled to within one-hundredth of a second at the second interval but leaned across the finish line 0.24 seconds behind.
Lalive had said Thursday that the course’s bottom portion would decide the race outcome, and her prophecy proved correct. Multiple competitors were close to Styger after the top section but wound up losing, not making up ground near the finish.
Dorfmeister was one of only a handful of racers to vault into the lead after a strong run at the top, but she saw that advantage start to dwindle. She held a 0.41-second lead after interval one; that advantage dropped to 0.08 after interval two.
The strong snow conditions allowed racers to take risks, but Dorfmeister was a little too aggressive through the Spring Pitch and Strawpile sections on the bottom of the course, which ended up costing her the title, she said.
“The first part of the course is what I like. It’s steep and you make smooth turns,” Dorfmeister said. “I had a very good feeling on my edges. Then the turns began. I lost my line and was late to a gate. I lost some of my speed.”
The 32-year-old Austrian, who has hinted this World Cup season may be her last, is in the process of making one strong final impression.
She is giving the Dorfmeister Fan Club plenty of reasons to blow their horns and crank their wooden noisemakers. She has reached the podium in the last four events she has entered. She was second and third in two downhills in Lake Louise.
“I don’t know exactly, but when I know it, I don’t say it,” Dorfmeister said of the reason for her recent string of success. “I’m on the podium and it’s good for my self-confidence and mind. I can go in the start and be relaxed. It’s a special feeling when you know you can win.”
Styger, who will compete in the giant slalom today, is hoping last season’s disappointments are far behind her. Shouldering the burden of high expectations in 2004 after two stellar years on the circuit, Styger battled through lingering issues with her back and knees. Her highest finish of the World Cup season was a sixth-place in the Aspen giant slalom on Nov. 26, 2004.
After a fifth-place finish in the super G and sixth in the downhill in Lake Louise, coupled with her gold medal and knowledge of the hill where the Olympics will take place, Styger looks like she is primed for a year of success, if she can outduel the Austrians.
Styger insists she is not looking ahead, however, and with good reason. She wants to let this victory sink in for awhile.
“After last year it was not so easy and I’m happy for the whole team that I can give Switzerland a victory,” Styger said. “To have a victory after last season, I could not feel better.”
Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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