Paerson gets Olympic boost with surprise downhill win
BAD KLEINKIRCHHEIM, Austria – Anja Paerson of Sweden was the surprise winner of the downhill Friday at a women’s World Cup event, giving her confidence for the upcoming Winter Olympics.Paerson’s downhill triumph was the second among her 29 World Cup titles. The Swede raced down a slope buried in thick snow in 1 minute, 37.70 seconds. The top four finishers were separated by only .09.Michaela Dorfmeister was second in 1:37.74, with Swiss skier Fraenzi Aufdenblatten another .04 back. Janica Kostelic, the overall World Cup leader, missed the podium by .01 seconds in 1:37.79.”It was unbelievably close,” Paerson said. “I can’t believe I won. I have been fighting the downhill all year and I didn’t come here with a positive attitude – I was hoping to finish top 10.”Lindsey Kildow was ninth in 1:38.59 after winning the last two downhills. The American turned in poor times on the slope all week in practice, followed by a 29th in qualification. Kildow still holds the overall lead in the downhill standings with 274 points, Dorfmeister is second with 252 points.American Kirsten Clark was 11th at 1:38.77.Paerson, who won last year’s overall title, said the downhill win will allow her to concentrate on other disciplines heading into the Turin Olympics, which start in three weeks.She will enter five races, trying to pick up her first Olympic gold medal.”The pressure on me is really high back home in Sweden,” Paerson said of the Olympics. “When I do bad in the downhill or super-G, they ask me why I am entering. Now that my downhill is in order, I can maybe concentrate on the super-G or slalom.”The only points the 24-year-old Swede had collected in a rocky downhill season was an 18th at Val d’Isere, France. In two other races she failed to finish and was 53rd.Paerson made up ground on Kostelic in the race for overall honors this season, with 685 to the Croatian’s 782 points.But the Swede said she could skip World Cup races to be ready for the Olympics and wasn’t interested in the latest battle with Kostelic for the season title. Last year, she edged her rival by three points.”I really do focus on the Olympics, so I don’t know where I am in the standings,” she said.The downhill will be followed by another Saturday and a super-G Sunday, the first World Cup races held at the newly designed Franz Klammer slope since 1997.The revamped slope had been billed as one of the hardest and most dangerous on the women’s circuit before the skiers arrived this week.Skiers said it didn’t live up to the hype and was on the slow side for a downhill, flat at the top followed by a series of curves. That helped technical racers like Paerson, who has won 26 slaloms and giant slaloms.”People were saying this was the most difficult slope on the women’s circuit – I was surprised at how easy it was. It was very technical,” Paerson said.Dorfmeister, 32, will retire after the Olympics and would like to earn a gold. She won a super-G silver at Nagano in 1988, missing the top prize by a fraction of a second.”I was frustrated when I came down the slope just .04 behind today. When I saw how close the top racers were, however, I felt lucky,” Dorfmeister said. “At the Olympics you will need a lot of luck. Everything has to be right that day.”Vail, Colorado
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