Lindsey Vonn 9th in season-opening GS |

Lindsey Vonn 9th in season-opening GS

Eric Willemsen
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Lindsey Vonn, of the United States, is seen in the finish area after completing the first run of the women's alpine skiing World Cup giant slalom, in Soelden, Austria, Saturday, Oct. 25, 2008. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)

SOELDEN, Austria ” Lindsey Vonn made a satisfying start to a World Cup season in which she begins as the defending overall champion.

She matched the best result of her career in the giant slalom by finishing ninth Saturday in a race won by Kathrin Zettel of Austria.

Zettel was fastest in the second leg of the season opener, completing the two runs in 2 minutes, 22.99 seconds to beat first-run leader Tanja Poutiainen of Finland by 0.98 seconds.

“I think that was definitely a solid start to the season,” Vonn said. “I had some trouble in the speed section of both runs, but I skied well in the lower section and I had the speed there to kick it into fifth gear.”

Vonn won the overall World Cup title last season, becoming the first American woman to do so since Tamara McKinney 1983. She and Bode Miller gave the United States a sweep of both overall crowns.

U.S. women’s Alpine coach Jim Tracy believes Vonn will contend again.

“If she stays healthy and keeps going, there’s no reason why she couldn’t be right up there defending the title big time,” Tracy said.

Andrea Fischbacher of Austria was third, 1.48 seconds behind, and giant slalom champion Denise Karbon of Italy was fourth.

In other American results, Megan McJames came in 14th and Olympic giant slalom champion Julia Mancuso, who did not qualify for the second run, was 17th.

This was Zettel’s fourth World Cup victory, the first time since 2002 an Austrian won the traditional opening race on the Rettenbach course. In 2007, Zettel broke her left lower leg and her nose in a crash in Tarvisio, Italy.

“This means so much to me,” she said. “The past season wasn’t easy for me. I had a lot of ups and downs, went into races with pain, but I kept fighting. I am proud to be a winner again.”

Austria’s Nicole Hosp, another contender for the overall title, was eighth after the opening run and skied off the course in the second leg. Britain’s Chemmy Alcott equaled Zettel’s second-run time to finish 10th.

A men’s giant slalom in Soelden is scheduled for Sunday. The women’s circuit resumes Nov. 15 with a slalom in Levi, Finland.

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