Pietilae-Holmner wins slalom to end 4-year drought
AP Sports Writer
ARE, Sweden — Having waited nearly four years for a World Cup win, Maria Pietilae-Holmner was lost for words when it finally came.
The Swede beat overall leader Tina Maze by just .06 seconds to clinch victory in Saturday’s slalom, with home fans given extra reason to cheer as Frida Hansdotter finished third on her 29th birthday.
Talking to the media proved more difficult for Pietilae-Holmner than taming the rock-hard Olympia course in freezing conditions that dropped to minus 17 degrees Celsius (1 degree Fahrenheit) in the morning’s first run.
“I’m getting emotional again,” Pietilae-Holmner said as she tried to describe what it meant to win her first race since a City Event in Munich in January, 2011.
For a long moment, no words came out, as she sat hunched forward, wiping tears away from her eyes.
It was a ninth career podium for the 28-year-old Pietilae-Holmner and first since finishing second here in a slalom race in March.
Her only other career victory was also in slalom — at Aspen, Colorado two months before Munich.
“This means so much,” said Pietilae-Holmner , who won in a combined time of 1 minute, 43.65 seconds. “It’s really big to prove I can be the best one again and to do it at home is even bigger.”
After crossing the finish line, she paused, looked at the giant screen and then held her hands over her head as she saw the winner’s light.
“Emotional is the right word,” she said. “I decided to just enjoy it. Sometimes it’s easy to get a little bit stressed. I was trying to enjoy the nice view. I’m a skier who hears everything, I can see my coaches on the way down, and for sure I heard the crowd.”
Hansdotter finished .32 behind in third for her 13th career podium.
“It’s nice to share the podium with Maria,” Hansdotter said.
Sixth fastest after the first run, Olympic slalom champion Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States just missed out on another podium, finishing fourth after a brilliant second run full of her trademark aggression.
Shiffrin, who won the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, in October, posted 51.65 and was just .02 behind a relieved Hansdotter, who clinched her third podium this season, all of them in slalom.
“Another learning experience,” said the 19-year-old Shiffrin, who was a disappointing 10th in Friday’s giant slalom. “I’m much happier to be fourth and two hundredths off the podium (than 10th).”
The 31-year-old Maze was aiming for her fourth victory of the season and second in slalom, after winning in Levi, Finland, last month.
“Maze is right back where she was two years ago and looks like she’s hammering,” Shiffrin said. “With the world championships coming up (in late March) everyone’s really gunning for the podium and I’m trying to do the same. I have to learn to have that fighting spirit, not just a winning spirit.”
After complaining of jet lag on Friday, having made the switch from North America to Europe earlier this week, Maze is looking forward to much-needed rest before heading to the French Alpine resort of Val d’Isere for next week’s speed races.
“Now it’s two days of sleeping, I’m really happy about that,” Maze said. “The body needs some time to get used to it.”