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Poutiainen reigns on Ajax

Steve Benson
Tanja Poutiainen of Finland stares down the slalom course en route to victory Sunday on Aspen Mountain. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.
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Finland’s Tanja Poutiainen became a World Cup podium fixture in Aspen this weekend.In three races on Aspen Mountain – a giant slalom and two slaloms – she collected two golds and a bronze.”Everything feels so easy now, somehow,” the smiling Finn said Sunday after her victory in the second slalom capped off a brilliant weekend. “I felt comfortable and confident.”Poutiainen won big on Sunday. Her two-run time of 1 minute, 50.77 seconds was 1.21 seconds faster than the second place finisher, Italy’s Manuela Moelgg.

Her performance over the weekend – a victory in Friday’s giant slalom, and a third and first in the slaloms Saturday and Sunday – can’t be downplayed. (For complete weekend results, see page A16.)But perhaps the highlight of the weekend was supplied by American Kristina Koznick, who finished third in Sunday’s slalom. “I had high expectations over the weekend,” said Koznick, who races independently from the U.S. Ski Team.Koznick finished with a combined time of 1 minute, 52.14 seconds, 1.37 seconds behind Poutiainen.

While Koznick said last week that she’s feeling strong and is “champing at the bit,” she pointed to her return to individual training as a source of revitalization.”This is the most excited I’ve been about skiing in a long time,” she said. “I’m just happy. I love skiing.”Moelgg’s second place finish on Sunday erased a podium dry streak for the Italians.”I’m very happy, I don’t know the last time an Italian reached the podium,” she said through an interpreter following the race. “It was a big achievement, incredible. I really attacked the second run.”Moelgg was in eighth place heading into the second run, with Koznick fourth, and Poutiainen second. In first was the Croatian sensation, Janica Kostelic, who won Saturday’s slalom and finished third in the GS Friday.

Kostelic, Poutiainen, and Sweden’s Anja Paerson had dominated the podium in the first two races. Kostelic finished third in the giant slalom, behind Paerson and the triumphant Poutiainen. On Saturday, it was the same three, with Kostelic and Poutiainen trading places.Paerson, who is recovering from an illness, on Saturday said she was feeling weak and unsure about Sunday’s race.She did not finish her first run on Sunday, missing the finals for the first time all weekend.On Sunday, with the race winding down, Moelgg was in first place with only two racers remaining – Poutiainen and Kostelic. After Poutiainen’s fluid, strong run knocked Moelgg into second, Kostelic took to the course. She skied the top section aggressively and with grace, and seemed destined to return to the podium. But at about the midway point, she lost an edge and crashed out of the race.

While grateful that she wasn’t knocked off the podium, Koznick was somewhat surprised.”With Janica, when conditions are pretty rough, she’s one of the best,” Koznick said.Other top American racers in Sunday’s slalom were Sarah Schleper and Lauren Ross, who finished 15th and 23rd, respectively.Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com


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