Mancuso leads way for improved Americans
ASPEN – U.S. Ski Team alpine director Jesse Hunt has no illusions about the women’s performance in the giant slalom. “I think we’ve struggled in giant slalom in the past,” Hunt said after Saturday’s race in Aspen.Despite only returning one racer in the top 40 from last year’s giant slalom standings, the Americans landed three in the top 22 – a much-improved showing. Julia Mancuso, who is making her way back from a hip operation, and hasn’t seen much time on training, finished seventh. Resi Stiegler, who had the No. 62 bib, jumped up to take 20th in her first World Cup giant slalom start. And Jessica Kelley had her best finish in a World Cup race, placing 22nd. “Today was a great result for those girls for different reasons,” Hunt said. “Resi skiing out of the back was impressive. Getting into the top 30 on her first run was good, and being able to move up from there was, (too). Jessica had a heck of a race going until she made a mistake, but she’s showed she can step up.” Kelley, sitting in 15th after her first run, stormed out of the gates on her second and was in position for a great finish, but slipped and lost some time.”Julia’s was a solid result,” Hunt said. “We all know what she can do, but she hasn’t trained a lot in giant slalom, so for her to come in here with a solid result was good.” As far as the other American skiers, many of whom were making their first World Cup starts, Hunt enjoyed what he saw.”It’s real different with all the media and attention, and the conditions are different,” Hunt said. “There’s a lot of new stuff for them, and certainly some of them did really good skiing sections of the course. We’re pleased to see that.”
Ski Club Vail alumna Lindsey Kildow, who admittedly isn’t a strong giant slalom skier, continues to see improvement.Kildow started her first run attacking the gates, but about halfway through, she missed one. “I was just going for it and there was a rhythm change,” Kildow said. “I wasn’t staying ahead of it enough, and I went straight. I wasn’t tactically smart enough. I’m really psyched, though. I was skiing well and I had a good split time – that’s positive. It’s a difficult hill and that stuff is going to happen.” Overall, Kildow feels things are going well this year, part of which she attributes to a new ski technician.”I feel that especially my speed skis are running really well,” Kildow said. “I got some great equipment right now, and I’m psyched to go up to Lake Louise, (Alberta, for next weekend’s downhill and super-G). It’s nice to have a fresh face and have someone with you who works really hard.” Kildow’s said her right tibia, which she injured training in late October, didn’t bother her at all Saturday.”The leg is OK,” Kildow said. “It was a little icy up there, so I need to get the ice pack now. It doesn’t hurt when I ski. It’s just basically making it heal. I don’t want to make it any worse than it is, or I’ll be off skis for a while.” Today, Kildow will be the top American starter in the slalom.”I’m really excited,” Kildow said. “This is the first time I’m going to be racing in the top 15 in the U.S. in a slalom. No one knows that I’m good at slalom, or that I’m getting better. Hopefully they’ll say, ‘Oh, who is this girl? She can actually ski slalom.'”
Mancuso, who still isn’t 100 percent with her right hip, couldn’t complain about her results.”I didn’t ski that great compared to my few days training, but I’ll take a top 10 any day,” Mancuso said. “Going over the finish line after both runs, I’ve had runs that felt way better, and I’ve finished worse. After my first run, the coaches said, ‘That’s not bad for 50 percent.'” Before this weekend, Mancuso took some time off to rest her hip and relax.”I don’t have too many training days under my belt. I’m trying to use every race as a training day,” Mancuso said.Because Mancuso started third on the first run, she was able to ski a fresh course and didn’t feel much pain. On her second run, however, Mancuso felt the effects of a rutted-out hill. “It was a little more bumpy, and I wasn’t used to that,” said Mancuso, who has been training on her own runs. “It hurts a little more on my hip.”
When Stiegler finished her first run, she stood in 32nd, two spots shy of qualifying for a second run. But upon review of earlier runs, two Austrian skiers were disqualified, and Stiegler bounced up 10 more places on her second pass. “I was a little nervous because I was so tired after the first run,” Stiegler said. “I had a bit of a cough, and I was trying to get it to cool down so I could make it through the course.”On her seconds run, Stiegler pushed hard and had enough energy to give Kelley a course report no more than a minute later. “Jessica, this is the sickest run ever,” Stiegler said into a radio.”Resi gave me a great report,” Kelley said after her second run, to which Stiegler chimed in, “I wasn’t tired at all.'”Kelley, who had the No. 39 bib, carried too much speed coming out of a gate, and slipped on both skis, but recovered in time to make the next gate. “I know I’ve been skiing well, and I tried to do the same thing s the first run,” Kelley said. “I’m happy I got points for us, and that’s what’s important.”
Racer bibs, which are always in high demand from spectators, were at an even higher premium Saturday. Several Americans, including Caitlin Ciccone, politely declined requests for their bibs, citing their first World Cup start. And culinary discussions continued Saturday, with Anja Paerson and Kildow each giving their two cents. When asked what is a hard adjustment for her in coming from Europe to North America, Paerson cited the food.”There’s something with fat (in foods) over here,” Paerson said. “My stomach doesn’t like the fat. This year we tried to take a lot of Swedish food over. When you ski all the events, it’s really important what you eat.”When later told about Paerson’s comments, Kildow weighed in on the issue.”Give me a break – we have great food here,” Kildow said. “It’s a little frustrating to hear (the Europeans) complain sometimes. I mean look at it from our perspective. We’re gone for five months out of the year, living out of our suitcases, from hotel to hotel. We never get to go home.” Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2935.