Finally, second to none
First they conquered Finland, now Aspen.Two races into the women’s World Cup season, the talented young skiers on the Austrian team are taking full advantage of the absence of defending overall champion Janica Kostelic and the health of last year’s runner-up, Anja Paerson, who underwent knee surgery in the offseason.Twenty-year-old Kathrin Zettel earned her first World Cup victory in Saturday’s giant slalom on Aspen Mountain to lead an impressive 1-3-4 Austrian finish. Zettel, who was third in the GS and slalom last year in Aspen during her first full World Cup season, finished with a combined two-run time of 2 minutes, 16.10 seconds.If not for Finland’s Tanja Poutiainen, Austria would have had another podium sweep, following a 1-2-3 finish in the season-opening slalom in Levi, Finland.Poutiainen (2:16.38) led after the first run and skied last in the second run, attacking the rutted Ruthie’s Run course to snake her way onto the podium and bump Austria’s Michaela Kirchgasser (2:16.68) to third and Nicole Hosp (2:16.88) to fourth.After finishing second or third eight times in her World Cup career, it was a relief to finally win, Zettel said.”After Levi, I feel much more confidence and the pressure falls off me,” said Zettel, who finished third in the season opener. “It seems to be easy at the time… I feel very strong mentally.”
The third-place finish was also a personal best for Kirchgasser, 21, who was seventh in the Levi slalom. At that race, Marlies Schild took first, followed by Hosp and Zettel.
“Especially in training it’s pretty good for us right now,” she said. We have Marlies, [Nicole] and [Kathrin] who can really win every race. When you have strong team, it’s always better than when you have one girl.” “With the team, there’s really high quality skiing,” Zettel added. “We push [each other]. We have so many drivers on our team. That’s the key, maybe.” Zettel and Kirchgasser acknowledged that with Kostelic sitting out the season, and Paerson still not at full strength, the opportunity to move up in the World Cup standings is for the taking. Spain’s Maria Jose Rienda, who won the Aspen GS last year and finished second in the final GS standings, is also out this season with a knee injury.
Paerson, who placed second in the previous two GS races here, veered off course during her first run Saturday when her outside ski skidded out from underneath her on a right turn midway down the mountain.”I didn’t have a smooth start,” she said. “I just pushed out a little bit, then came into a flat and the edge went away from me, then I hooked my inside edge and I had no chance. They put a really tight course in [on the first run.] Normally, we’re not used to it that tight… I think a lot of people were having a rough time finding a rhythm.”Poutiainen, who earned her first World Cup victories in Aspen two years ago, preferred the tighter course set in the first run. Regardless of how the gates are set up, the Aspen course is one of her favorites, she said.”It’s challenging,” she said. “I think it’s one of the nicest GS hills in the lady’s World Cup. It’s not easy. Especially, I like the set today. It was really tight set… but that’s how it should be. We have to be prepared for all these changes on the course, like big rollovers and turns. I like it. It’s always in good shape, the slope.”
To return to the podium here definitely helps with confidence, she added. The wins in GS and slalom on the Winternational course two years ago propelled her to overall titles in both disciplines.Last season she won the GS silver medal at the Winter Olympics, but her World Cup results dropped off considerably.”I had good skiing last year as well, but not quite on the first or second or third,” she said. “I was all the time fifth, sixth and seventh. That’s not bad. There was nothing really wrong. But it was not the season like it was before. I’m really happy with GS like this on the podium.” The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.