Vail skier top American in slalom |

Vail skier top American in slalom

Shauna Farnell
Olympics correspondent
Sarah Schleper of the United States reacts after finishing the Womens Slalom at the Turin 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Sestriere Colle, Italy, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2006. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

SESTRIERE, Italy ” Sarah Schleper was surprised even to earn a spot on the 2006 U.S. Olympic Team. Then, the Vail skier posted the best American result in Wednesday’s slalom.

“I really didn’t think about anything except going down the hill and going faster,” said Schleper, who finished 10th with a two-run combined time of 1 minute, 31.38 seconds. “That’s my best slalom of the year.”

The prospects of the U.S. women’s slalom team didn’t look great before the race began. Resi Stiegler, who finished 12th, was the only healthy member of the crew. Kristina Koznick was racing with a torn ACL. Lindsey Kildow was still hurting after a crash during downhill training last week. Schleper, who turned 27 on Sunday, is still on the mend from major back surgery last fall.

“After Lindsey’s crash, just for her to race in the downhill is impressive,” Schleper said. “Kristina racing today is impressive. I think we’re proving how tough we actually are.”

Kildow ended up in 14th place Wednesday, and Koznick pulled out of the second run after finishing the first in 33rd. She said she’s scheduled for surgery at the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic in Vail on Monday.

Schleper has incorporated core training into her daily Olympic routine, but she still has to take training gingerly with her back pain. “Every day is a battle because I still have pain and can’t just go out there and hammer,” she said. “I can’t seem to get my timing back to where it was.”

Still, Schleper chose an opportune time to put down her best slalom result of the season. After returning to the World Cup at the end of December, she posted 13th- and 17th-place finishes in slalom, and then a ninth place in giant slalom just before the Olympics.

“I’m having a fine time,” Schleper said. “I love Italy. I’m having fun. I’m happy to be here. I didn’t think I’d be able to come to the Olympics this winter, so just to be here is pretty sweet.”

Schleper was 14th after the first run Wednesday, saying she maybe took it too conservatively. When asked what her plan for the second run was, she smiled and said, “I’m just going to put it all on the line.”

And that she did, fighting into 10th place. This result, she said, gives her promise for Friday’s giant slalom.

“I’m really looking forward to the GS,” she said. “I wish I could put it on the line as best I can [in slalom], but something about this is not right yet. I want to get this under control and start hammering again. The GS is going to be fun.”


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