Resi Stiegler’s career derailed after another crash
ASPEN – This was supposed to be the season. The season when U.S. Ski Team member Resi Stiegler put a string of unfortunate and frustrating injuries behind her. When one of the country’s most promising technical skiers finally broke out.The 24-year-old was poised to step into the starting gates at this weekend’s Aspen Winternational for the first time since December 2007, when she finished eighth in slalom.”I had a great prep period which I have not had in a while, great summer training and I’m feeling really strong,” the Jackson Hole, Wyo. native wrote in an e-mail to The Aspen Times earlier this month. “Every day is like a new day and there are always things to work on but I feel prepared for the season to kick off. I am ready to really get into it and I know I’m going to have to fight a bit … .” That fight is just beginning. During giant slalom training last week at Copper Mountain, Stiegler hooked a gate and crashed, injuring her left leg. U.S. Ski Team medical director Richard Quincy later announced that Stiegler fractured her left tibia and femur and would be sidelined for the season.”Watching your teammate go down like that is never good,” Vail’s Sarah Schleper told the Summit Daily News. “My heart breaks for her,” added Kaylin Richardson. “We don’t know what happened, but whenever anyone falls and is injured. … You’re just bummed for them. It’s the worst part of ski racing, but it just kind of goes with the territory.”Stiegler knows that all too well. Her profile on the International Ski Federation’s website has included the status “active (injured)” for nearly two years. She opened with three top 10s in the first three slaloms in 2007-2008, including a career-best fourth in Reiteralm, Austria in early November. But things took a turn for the worse little more than a month later in the Austrian town of Lienz.Stiegler’s skis crossed as she negotiated a curve about halfway down the course, sending her barreling through two rows of safety netting and into a tree.”It happened so fast I didn’t expect any of it,” she wrote. “I knew right away that I had broken my arm and the rest of my body got so banged up that I just knew there was something else wrong.” Stiegler sustained a broken left forearm and right shin, tore ligaments in her right knee and bruised her face and hip, according to reports.Seven months into her rehabilitation, Stiegler re-injured her knee in a collision during a summer recreation soccer game, according to the Jackson Hole News & Guide. She fractured her tibial plateau and strained her anterior and medial collateral ligaments.She did not return to competition until Valentine’s Day of this year at the World Ski Championships in Val d’Isere, France. She wound up 19th in slalom.”I was so determined to go to Val d Isere [sic]. That was a goal for me that I had set before I hurt myself back to back from the first injury so it was something that was stuck in my head and a good point to look forward at,” she wrote. “When I got there I had a great slalom progression and was so excited to race. I was nervous but it was the good nerves. I was so so so happy when I crossed the line that day!”Stiegler parlayed that momentum into a summer spent training hard and traveling across the globe. She wrote that she entered this season as mentally and physically strong as ever and was looking forward to another run at Olympic gold in Vancouver. She finished 11th in combined and 12th in slalom in Italy in 2006. She will not get the chance now.”I hate to use that old cliche that it’s sport and these things happen, but the reality is that it does,” U.S. women’s coach Jim Tracy told The Associated Press. “It’s hard for us when any of the kids get hurt. We take it very, very personally.”Stiegler has proven to be resilient before. It appears things will be no different this time around.”This was a serious injury for Resi, but her spirit is strong,” Quincy said in a recent statement released by the U.S. Ski Team. “One of the first things she asked was if she could be ready for on-snow camp in New Zealand next summer.”While Stiegler will not compete in Aspen this weekend, her teammates will look to end the U.S.’s podium drought here. (It’s been four years and nine straight World Cup races since an American woman finished among the top three at Winternational.) Among them are standouts Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso.Vonn, the 2008 and 2009 World Cup overall champion, finished fourth in both slalom and giant slalom on Ajax last November. Mancuso finished seventh in GS, a discipline in which she won Olympic gold in 2006.Here’s a look at some other U.S. skiers hoping to make a splash Saturday and Sunday:• In last year’s slalom here, Sun Valley, Idaho’s Hailey Duke qualified for a second run for the first time in six career World Cup starts. The 24-year-old, a former taekwondo standout, wound up 21st. She scored points in three more World Cup slaloms last season, including a personal-best eighth-place finish in Semmering, Austria.• Edina, Minn.’s Kaylin Richardson has logged 10 top-20 finishes on the World Cup circuit since 2003. The 25- year- old walked away from the sport for the bulk of the 2007- 2008 season to work with World Vision helping raise funds to build a school in Zambia. Her best finish in Aspen was 28th in December 2007’s slalom.• While her results last season did not live up to expectations, Mammoth, Calif.’s Stacey Cook closed with a flurry. She finished ninth in downhill, 16th in super combined and 22nd in super G at the World Ski Championships. Saturday’s GS will be her first World Cup race of the season.• Last season, Park City, Utah’s Megan McJames experienced everything from a personal-best 14th-place finish in GS in the World Cup opener in Soelden, Austria, to a broken wrist. Now healthy, the 22-year-old returns to Aspen, sight of her first World Cup start in 2006, for a third time. She was 25th in GS last year.• Leanne Smith was off to a strong start last season before a ACL tear in January cost the 22-year-old a chance to compete in the World Ski Championships. The Conway, N.H. native is healthy and looking to secure a spot on the Olympic team.• Amery, Wis.’s Sterling Grant made her World Cup debut in Aspen in 2005. The 22-year-old’s career has picked up steam since then, punctuated by last year’s run of seven straight NorAm victories (five in slalom, two in GS) that resulted in a slalom overall title. Automatic starts in all World Cup slaloms this season as well as a promotion to the U.S.’s B Team were her reward. Now, she’ll look to build on last year’s 29th-place finish here.