Schleper scrubs speed after jump in GS
Special to the Daily
BEAVER CREEK — Sarah Schleper’s FIS Alpine World Ski Championships did not start quite as she hoped, but she’ll still be the first one donning the party hat — er, sombrero.
Representing Mexico, the Vail local launched into the high point of phase No. 2 of her professional ski racing career in Thursday’s World Championships giant slalom race, but after a huge mistake on the jump in the first run, barely made a second run, more than 8 seconds back. Barely making the second run as the 58th starter, she skied with no visible mistakes but still ended up 50th, 12.57 seconds off the winning pace.
Officially the oldest athlete of the 116 that entered the race Thursday, Schleper’s 36th birthday is looming in six days. After marrying Mexican native Federico Gaxiola in 2007, the Vail local who grew up in her father Buzz’s Ski Shop in Vail Village acquired dual Mexican-American citizenship last year. She did so expressly because she wanted to race professionally again, to compete in these home World Championships.
A mother of two — Lasse, 7, named after the great Norwegian skier Lasse Kjus and Resi, 2, named after Resi Stiegler, Schleper’s best friend on the U.S. Ski Team — Schleper retired from racing in 2011. But after being cleared for Mexican citizenship, she restarted her career this season wearing red, white and green. She entered the season opening World Cup GS race in Soelden, Austria, and also competed in the Aspen World Cup race. She failed to make the second-run flip in both races but entered a couple of Nor-Am races in Aspen and finished in the points, 29th in one race. She also landed a couple of top 15 results in FIS races in Utah.
Schleper started Thursday’s World Championships race donning her Mexico race suit, painted to resemble a mariachi band player and wearing bib No. 54. The big screen didn’t show the beginning of her first run, so the full stadium — included dozens of Schleper’s friends and family — didn’t get to see the Vail skier launch out of the start with her signature lion’s roar. They also missed her skidding to nearly a stop after a jump at the top of the course, which essentially took her out of the race.
“I blew it on the jump. I had to ski back onto the course. I watched girls fly off of it and I was like, ‘I’ll have enough direction. I’ll be fine.’ But it came up (fast). I thought it was a couple more gates down. All of a sudden I was like ‘Woah!’,” she said.
Schleper ended the first run in 57th place, 8.36 seconds behind leader and eventual winner Anna Fenninger. Training with her younger brother, Hunter Schleper, Sarah said her speed has increased a lot since the beginning of the season and she was sorry she couldn’t have displayed her skills better in Thursday’s race.
“I’m skiing better than my time shows. I’m a little disappointed, but you just have to be happy to race. I’m racing as a mom of two and a lot of people couldn’t do this so, I’m just happy to be here,” she said.
Riding chairlift No. 95 before the race, Schleper’s memory harkened back to the year of 1995, when she made her World Cup debut as a teenager at home at Vail/Beaver Creek.
“I’m really superstitious about chairlift numbers. I started having all of these reminiscing thoughts. I was thinking, ’95 was a good year. Most of these girls weren’t even born. I was in high school,” Schleper said.
Olympics No. 5?
Schleper has competed in four Olympics and plans to make it five in 2018 in South Korea. The 2015 World Championships marks her sixth, though she had to miss the 1999 event at home after breaking her leg – one of several injuries that plagued her career. She came back strong in 2000 for her first pair of World Cup podiums, following up with another in 2004 and her first and only victory in 2005 in the Lenzerheide, Switzerland, slalom.
Competing in these World Championships take the veteran racer back to a familiar state of mind, a similar adrenaline charge she’s had throughout the years in all of her other big medal events.
“It’s funny because I get a lot of the same feelings,” she said. “I still feel like I have a chance. I still get nervous and really want to get the speed going. You kind of relive your childhood.”
Schleper will compete in Saturday’s slalom race, likely with another late start number. But for the local mother, who has had Mexican skiers following her around all week wanting photos, Schleper is not here for the medals.
“Everyone is like ‘Suerte! Viva Mexico!’ It’s just cool to be part of another culture — a culture with a lot of passion. I’m proud to represent Mexico,” Schleper said. “I’m obviously proud to be an American. I didn’t want to have that mistake today. I wanted to have a legitimate time. I want to ski the best that I can. We’re just going to keep going.”