Vail’s Sarah Schleper wins slalom at Whiteface |

Vail’s Sarah Schleper wins slalom at Whiteface

Daily staff report
Sarah Schleper, of Vail, Colo., makes a turn as she lines up her next gate on her first run of the women's slalom ski event at the U.S. Alpine Championships at Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington, N.Y., Sunday, March 21, 2010. Schleper won the race. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

WILMINGTON, N.Y. – Vail’s Sarah Schleper won the slalom title at the U.S. Alpine Championships at Whiteface Mountain on Sunday.

The win for the 31-year-old Schleper, a four-time Olympian, continued a comeback to the U.S. Ski Team that began two years ago after the birth of her son, Lasse.

“I didn’t have the results last year until the end of the season,” said Schleper after taking her fourth U.S. slalom crown. “And then it carried over into this season. That got my spot on the Olympic team. I thought I had a shot at a medal. Even though I didn’t medal, I skied passionately.”

Schleper used an early start in the opening run to establish a lead of nearly 0.8 seconds over Erin Mielzynski, of Canada, in soft snow conditions near Lake Placid.

The reverse-30 format of the second run, however, nearly cost her the victory. Starting last, Schleper surrendered much of her advantage on a rutted track. Her two-heat total was 2 minutes, 3.67 seconds down a Draper’s Drop course that fell 630 feet vertically from start to finish.

Schleper’s aggregate time was 0.13 faster than Mielzynski.

Hailey Duke, of Boise, Idaho, placed third in 2:04.85.

For Schleper, the final races of the year at Whiteface were a sweet reward for hard work, as well as great fun.

“This title is really the icing on a hard two years. It was a lot of fun; I love my teammates, and I loved being here,” she said.

After making her fourth Olympics and taking her fourth slalom title on Sunday, Schleper is still thinking about a possible return next season.

“I have top-30 World Cup starts now in slalom and giant slalom for next year, and I’m looking forward to the prep period for next season,” she remarked. “I’m 80 per cent sure I’ll be back.”

Vancouver Winter Olympian Megan McJames, of Park City, Utah, picked up the combined victory, with Laurenne Ross, of Klamath Falls, Ore., second and Katie Hitchcock, of Sugar Bowl, Calif., third.

The U.S. Alpine Championships resume today with the men’s giant slalom.

Olympian Tommy Ford came out of sixth place after the first run, blasted through the second course with the fastest time and grabbed his first two national titles on the day after his 21st birthday.

Ford also captured the combined event, which totals Saturday’s super G and the slalom.

“My strategy today was to just go for it full pin,” said the Bend, Ore., ski racer and student at Dartmouth College. “I’ve really improved, but the conditions also favored me. I’m used to running in ruts. It reminds me of home.”

Ford posted two runs totaling 2:02.17. He took the second run by 1.14 seconds.

“I’m turning it on at the end of the year,” Ford said. “But at this time of the year, I can’t take as many runs. My legs feel it.”

The winner was helped by first-run leader Patrick Biggs, who slid off course in the final leg.

“I hit a hole, and that was it,” Biggs said. “You can only do so much with this snow. That’s ski racing.”

Ford’s international ranking usually starts him in the back half of the field, where conditions begin to deteriorate.

“Not everyone can ski that stuff, and I know I’m good in it,” Ford said. “These other guys haven’t been in it for a while.”

David Chodounsky, of Crested Butte, was second in 2:02.94, with Nolan Kasper, of Warren, Vt., third in 2:03.35.

Ted Ligety, 2006 Olympic gold medal winner from Park City, Utah, stood third at the intermission before slipping to seventh.

Chodounsky and Kasper also placed second and third, respectively, in the combined.

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