U.S. skier Schleper makes case for Vancouver | AspenTimes.com

U.S. skier Schleper makes case for Vancouver

Mattias Karen
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Sarah Schleper of the United States competes during an alpine ski, Women's World Cup Giant slalom, in Are, Sweden, Saturday, Dic. 12, 2009. (AP Photo/Marco Trovati)

ARE, Sweden – Sarah Schleper’s best race in four years may have moved her a big step closer to a fourth Olympics.

Schleper put down the best time of any skier in the second run of a World Cup giant slalom race on Saturday, moving her from 19th to eighth for her first top-10 finish since 2006.

Even though she finished more than 1.7 seconds behind winner Tessa Worley of France, it was the kind of performance Schleper needs to make a case for a spot on the U.S. team going to Vancouver.

“I won the second run, so I’m pretty stoked about that,” said Schleper, who was the best American after overall World Cup leader Lindsey Vonn skied out in the first run and Olympic GS champion Julia Mancuso finished 16th. “All the hard work and the things we’ve been doing with my coaches, all the training we’ve been putting in is paying off.”

And the 30-year-old from Vail, has worked hard to get back to skiing’s elite level.

Schleper tore the ACL in her left knee after the 2006 Turin Olympics and missed the entire next season. She then sat out the next season while pregnant, and gave birth to her son, Lasse, in January 2008.

The long absence meant Schleper – who also competed at the 1998 Nagano Olympics and 2002 Salt Lake City games – lost her place on the “A” squad on the U.S. Ski Team and now must pay a share of her expenses while she travels the circuit with her son and husband.

She got a break on Saturday, however, as her early start in the second run meant she had more favorable conditions than the late runners.

“The snow was actually breaking down quite a bit, you don’t feel it while you’re going down but the times get really slow as they go toward the later racers,” she said. “In the second, I took advantage of the course conditions.”

She made some early mistakes, even leaning over so far that her hip rubbed against the snow, but said that only spurred her to go faster.

“After that I went, ‘C’mon, keep charging!'” she said. “And I think I just went forward a little bit more, tried to get off my edges sooner.”

Worley held a commanding lead after the first run and then held off her challengers to finish in a combined time of 2 minutes, 23.33 seconds. Tina Maze of Slovenia was 0.57 seconds behind and Kathrin Zettel of Austria was third to maintain her lead in the GS standings.

It’s only the second podium finish for the 20-year-old Worley, but the giant slalom specialist is making them count.

“I would take a second or third place, too,” said Worley, who won a GS last year in Aspen. “But I like to win.”

Schleper is happy just being back in the top 10. This was her best result since winning a slalom in Switzerland in March 2005 and first top-10 World Cup finish since being ninth in a GS in Germany in February 2006.

She also finished 10th in the slalom in Turin – her best Olympic result.

Her second run on Saturday may be just what she needed to set her sights on something better in Vancouver.

“It feels pretty cool,” she said. “I tried to attack, and do everything right. Things just paid off in the end.”

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