Clark gets third in Lienz GS; Schleper eighth
Two-time Olympian Kirsten Clark (Raymond, ME), skiing relaxed with a new set of skis despite a lingering cold, laid down a sizzling first run Saturday and earned her first World Cup podium in giant slalom in Lienz Austria, finishing third behind two Austrians.
Vail’s Sarah Schleper had the fastest second run, vaulting 11 places into her third top-10 of the winter in eighth place with Kristina Koznick (Eagan, MN) 18th.
Nicole Hosp won in 2:06.24 with Renate Goetschl second in 2:06.89. Clark – the Carrabassett Valley Academy grad whose best previous GS was ninth in Copper Mountain, early in the 2002 season – was second in the first run and had a two-run time of 2:07.17. Hosp took over the World Cup GS points lead with the win and gained on World Cup leader Anja Paerson of Sweden, who was disqualified in the first run.
“In the first run, I was just relaxed,” Clark said. “Fischer’s just come out with new GS skis and I definitely think a lot of it was that – they’re softer torsionally and that really helped in initiating the turns. I liked how I felt on them. I only skied on them two days, and I figured I had nothing to lose.”
Clark has won in downhill and been a top-3 finisher in super G, so this podium gives her a huge confidence boost, she said.
Clark, in her eighth season on the U.S. Ski Team, originally made the team as a GS skier and worked hard during the summer to reclaim some of those technical skills.
“It shows me, for sure, I can be in there with the best of them in GS, too, and I think it shows the rest of the world I’m not only a downhiller,” said Clark. “I’m also a technical skier. That’s where I started.”
Saturdays podium finish was also refreshing, because after getting sick following the pre-Christmas downhill in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Clark spent several days in bed, trying to regain her health.
“I wasn’t feeling good but I worked hard to get healthy and when I came out here, I was relaxed and just sort of went into the race,” said Clark. “Two years ago in Lienz [in another GS], I had a decent race – I was 17th, and I had splits of third and fourth, so I knew I could perform well here. That helped me stay calm, too.”
Clark said she still plans to take a few days to relax before the Jan. 4 super-G in Megeve, France.
U.S. Women’s Head Coach Patrick Riml was excited about Clark’s performance and Schleper’s second run.
“They were awesome,” said Riml. “Clarky put in a lot of work on her GS during the summer and this was a big payoff. She’s skied so well all season, but this was huge. And Schleper, with that fastest second run was great. It was an amazing day.”
Added women’s Slalom/GS coach Wolfi Erharter, “Clarky surprised a lot of people, but she definitely can do it, as she showed. It was a technical course at the bottom and she skied so well.
Erharter was also pleased that Schleper woke up for her second run, after skiing without much “umph’ in the first go-round.
“Sarah fell asleep in her first run, halfway down the hill, as she can do, but like she says, she “let the tiger out’ on her second run,” said Erharter. “She can do it.”
The U.S. team had three qualify for a second run but it nearly was five. Juniors Julia Mancuso (Olympic Valley, CA) and Lindsey Kildow (Burnsville, MN) tied for 32nd in the first run – just. 03 away from the top-30 cutoff.
The women race slalom today and then move on to Megeve, France, for a super G and slalom Jan. 4-5. U.S. starters Sunday will be Schleper, Koznick, Mancuso, Kildow and Resi Stiegler (Jackson Hole, WY); Clark doesn’t usually ski slalom.