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Schleper seventh in GS at Sestriere

Daily Staff Report
AP photo
AP | AP

SESTRIERE, Italy – Local Sarah Schleper took time off a month ago because of back problems, and she finished her season Sunday in seventh place in a giant slalom won by all-conquering Anja Paerson of Sweden. Paerson, the women’s World Cup overall, slalom and GS champ, had the fastest second run en route to her 11th win of the season.

Paerson, whose first victories this winter came during the Chevy Truck America’s Opening at Utah’s Park City Mountain Resort in November, had a winning time of 2 minutes, 13.70 seconds. She came into the season with 11 World Cup victories; after her fifth win in GS Sunday, she has 22 wins – starting Dec. 3, 1998 in the Chevrolet California Classic slalom at Mammoth Mountain, Calif. Italy’s Denise Karbon, the first-run leader, was second in 2:14.81.

Schleper, the lone U.S. woman to make Finals in GS, attacked on her final run and posted the fourth-fastest second run to move up from 13th behind Karbon after the first run. Her final time was 2:15.66 – boosting her over the 400-point level for the season and giving the U.S. women two beyond the coveted level, which provides favored-start status for races. Three-event racer Kirsten Clark of Raymond, Maine, who has been sidelined since midseason with a broken wrist and knee injuries, had 456 points despite missing the last six weeks of the season. That’s the first time the U.S. women have had two over 400 points since the 1995 season when Picabo Street and Hilary Lindh accomplished the feat.

“I’m psyched. I’m really psyched,” Schleper said. “I’m really surprised. I figured out racing and training are totally different. I’ve kinda separated them; race day is different. I’ve just accepted it, and now it’s different.”

She returned home a month ago for treatment of two bulging discs in her lower back, missing two slaloms and GS. She was “skeptical” of returning for World Cup Finals, Schleper said, but wanted to race “to see if I could improve my standings … and I didn’t want to lose any more in my slalom ranking.” Her second-place finish helped stem the erosion in points; Schleper finished the season 17th overall – 11th in slalom, 12th in GS.

“I’m going to take about three or four months off, do some core (strength) work and let my back rest some more,” she said. “I’m totally psyched about being more consistent next season.”

The next racing for U.S. skiers will be the Chevrolet U.S. Alpine Championships at week’s end at Alyeska resort in Alaska.

WOMEN’S ALPINE WORLD CUP

World Cup Finals

Sestriere, ITA – March 14

Women’s Giant Slalom

1. Anja Paerson, Sweden, 2:13.70

2. Denise Karbon, Italy, 2:14.81

3. Alexandra Meissnitzer, Austria, 2:14.97

4. Maria Jose Rienda Contreras, Spain, 2:15.19

5. Allison Forsyth, Canada, 2:15.36

7. Sarah Schleper, Vail, Colo., 2:15.66

Palander 1st in Race, 2nd in Points

SESTRIERE, Italy – Defending champion Kalle Palander of Finland won the last World Cup slalom of the season Sunday but lost his title when Austrian Rainer Schoenfelder was second, just five-hundredths back, to clinch the World Cup SL championship, making Palander second in both SL and giant slalom. Bode Miller of Franconia, N.H., who captured the GS crown, finished seventh – not enough to move into third place overall – with Tom Rothrock (Cashmere, WA) 23rd.

After the final race of World Cup Finals, Miller – who had gotten a sneak peek during a surprise visit arranged by International Ski Federation and Joska crystal officials at the U.S. Ski Team’s request on Saturday night at a Ski Team reception – was presented his crystal globe as World Cup giant slalom champion. The Ski Team finished third in Nations Cup points, finishing 64 points behind Italy to equal the Ski Team’s finish a year ago when it was the best performance since 1983.

A day after heavy snow and fog forced cancellation of the men’s giant slalom, with Miller being declared champion, racers were greeted by good weather and mostly sunshine for the last race of the season. Austrian Hermann Maier collected the fourth World Cup overall title of his career when teammate Stephan Eberharter elected not to run slalom in a bid to make-up the 42-point margin behind Maier.

Palander started the day 55 points behind Schoenfelder and won in 1:49.67. However, with the Austrian taking second place (1:49.72), he stayed close enough to protect his points lead as he moved up from third a year ago. Miller, the only athlete – male or female – to ski in every race over the last two-seasons, had a-two-run time of 1:50.36 and Rothrock finished in 1:51.73.

Finishing seventh brought 36 points for Miller, who was second overall a year ago to Eberharter, but it wasn’t enough to overtake Austrian Beni Raich, who was 10th in the slalom, in the overall tally. However, by finishing fourth with Daron Rahlves of Sugar Bowl, Calif., fifth, it was the first time the U.S. Ski Team has two men in the top five overall since 1982 when Phil Mahre won the overall championship and twin brother Steve finished third.

“They were two good courses, but easy, and it’s an easy hill,” said Men’s SL/GS Head Coach Mike Morin. “So, when you put an easy course on an easy hill, one small mistake becomes very costly because the times are stacked in there so tightly. You can’t make mistakes.

“The first run seemed a little perplexing for Bode – he buried that edge too hard and that slowed him. His second run was quite good but with the big guns after the title, Bode wasn’t gunning for the title and he had a different intensity.”

The U.S. Ski Team heads next to the Chevrolet U.S. Alpine Championships, which begin later this week at Alyeska resort in Alaska. A FIS downhill is scheduled Thursday with the championships downhill Friday.

ALPINE MEN’S WORLD CUP

World Cup Finals

Sestriere, ITA – March 14

Men’s Slalom (Only top 15 get World Cup points)

1. Kalle Palander, Finland, 1:49.67

2. Rainer Schoenfelder, Austria, 1:49.72

3. Manfred Pranger, Austria, 1:1:49.82

4. Edoardo Zardini, Italy, 1:50.23

5. Akira Sasaki, Japan, 1:50.25

7. Bode Miller, Franconia, N.H., 1:50.36

22. Tom Rothrock, Cashmere, Wash., 1:51.73


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