American drought continues in Aspen
ASPEN, Colorado” Lindsey Vonn waved to the home crowd Sunday and blew kisses to the TV cameras, but the celebration was short-lived.
For yet another year, there was no kissing America’s podium drought in Aspen goodbye.
The second day of the Winternational races on Aspen Mountain included more harsh weather, another first-time World Cup winner and another fourth-place finish from Vonn, the 24-year old who grew up carving turns in Vail.
A day after finishing fourth for a personal-best in giant slalom, the defending World Cup champion settled for fourth again in the slalom ” a year after she finished fourth in a downhill here.
It’s been four years and nine straight World Cup races since an American woman finished among the top three at the Winternational.
“I really would have liked to get a top three,” said Vonn, who ditched a set of crutches last week to race on a bruised left knee. “I had a pretty conservative first run because my knee wasn’t feeling that hot after the warm-up. Second run, it was feeling better and I just tried to go as fast as I could, but I just couldn’t make up the time difference. I’m happy with fourth.”
While Vonn held the lead after two runs for about five minutes, it was first-run leader Sarka Zahrobska, a 23-year-old from the Czech Republic, who walked off the mountain with the gold medal and $28,595.
After three runner-up finishes and two thirds, all in slalom, during the last two seasons, Zahrobska held off Austria’s Nicole Hosp and Finland’s Tanja Poutiainen to finally capture the top step of a World Cup podium. The only racer in the field to crack 49 seconds in her first run, Zahrobska was the last racer on course in the afternoon and skied confidently through blowing snow for a winning two-run time of 1 minute, 39.32 seconds.
“It’s a special feeling being at the start after everyone has come down,” Zahrobska said.
She knew her second run was good, but the excitement didn’t sink in until her name flashed on the scoreboard.
“I did my best, but you can never be sure,” Zahrobksa said.
Especially with two regular visitors to the Aspen podium sitting in first and second at the bottom of the mountain waiting for her to slip up.
Hosp’s runner-up finish (1:39.55) followed up her slalom win in Aspen last year and another runner-up showing in 2006, the same season she went on to win the World Cup overall crown. Poutiainen, meanwhile, picked up her seventh podium result in Aspen in either giant slalom or slalom.
“It’s challenging, but that’s the way I like it,” said Poutiainen, who finished in 1:40.29. “It’s not easy, but I enjoy racing here.”
Hosp, who had the fastest second run among the podium finishers, tweaked a muscle and bruised her leg after crashing in Saturday’s giant slalom. She opted to race Sunday to try to keep pace in the World Cup overall chase.
“I tried not to think and just ski good,” she said. “It was very difficult. It was windy and snowy and I tried to do my best.”
While Zahrobska will remember Aspen for her first win, everyone else will remember this race for the erratic, brutal weather.
Snow of all types and even small chunks of hail fell throughout the day while whipping wind that reached speeds of 55 mph led to a course hold during the first run. While racers battled the conditions, the string of sponsor banners draped over the finish line was no match for the wind. Course workers eventually had to pull down the display and opted to drill one small banner into the side of the slope next to the finish.
It got even weirder after that: Norway’s Anne Marie Mueller barely missed running head-on into a loose dog at the end of her second run. The yellow lab ” with its leash in tow ” sprinted across the finish line just a second before Mueller passed by.
Course workers had to deal with that situation as well, capturing the dog before the next racer came down.
“It was really windy. It was the luck of the draw whether you got a big gust or not, but in general, I think everyone got wind,” Vonn said. “It was just a matter of fighting as hard as you can and dealing with the conditions that you had. Unfortunately, I think I got pretty bad wind on both runs.”
U.S. teammates Julia Mancuso, Kiley Staples and Kaylin Richardson had other problems. All three missed the second-to-last gate on the course in their first runs and missed a chance at World Cup points. Vail’s Sarah Schleper, struggling with back pain, opted not to start.
That left Vonn and two World Cup novices, Hailey Duke and Sterling Grant, as the only Americans to earn a second run.
Poutiainen grabbed the overall lead Saturday and extended it Sunday to 31 points ” 260-229 ” over Vonn. The defending champion knows, however, that she is in a perfect spot to move back up to the top of the standings next weekend when the women’s World Cup circuit moves to Lake Louise, Alberta, for a downhill and a super G.
Vonn has been on the podium in Lake Louise seven times in the last four seasons, which includes four wins in downhill. Her early success in the technical events, including her first career slalom win in Levi, Finland, has put the rest of the World Cup on notice.
“Before, I was happy to have 20 points at this point in the season,” Vonn said. “With these results, I’m getting 55 points a race.”