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To ski or not to ski

Ian CroppVail CO, Colorado
Austrian ski racer Alexandra Meissnitzer wipes away tears after she was injured in a fall during the World Cup Downhill ski race on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2007 in Aspen, Colo. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)
AP | AP

ASPEN – With a snowy pitch and one of his racers going down to injury, Austrian women’s coach Hebert Mandel held back some of his racers Saturday.But Mandel, who saw two of his racers land on the podium and five in the top 15, had expressed his displeasure over running the race before it got under way. “I won’t blame the organizers – they’ve done a tremendous job to get ready and to do everything possible. I think we have to take more responsibility (for) the racers,” Mandel said at Saturday’s team captains meeting. Austrian Nicole Hosp, last year’s overall winner, was slated to run after teammate Alexandra Meissnitzer, who crashed and sustained a bone bruise on her knee.”It’s such a dangerous race,” Hosp said in the finish corral. “I can’t understand that they would start the race. For Aspen, it will be good, but for the athletes, it’s terrible. … It’s just dangerous.” During the 20-minute delay, in which Meissnitzer was transported to the bottom in a toboggan, Hosp contemplated racing and eventually opted not to go. Later in the race, Mandel pulled three of his younger racers from the start gate. Along with Meissnitzer, French skier Anne-Sophie Barthet took a nasty spill that left her with a dislocated right kneecap and sprained ligaments.French coach Jean-Philippe Vulliet said he though the race line was adequately cleared of snow, but the area outside the line wasn’t. “The fact that where Sophie fell, in my opinion, is a spot with a high probability of wide line. And in this case, we should make sure the line is clean. You have a B net 15 meters away from the line, so you have the course cleaned until the B nets,” Vulliet said. Atle Skaardal, the chief race director for the women’s World Cup, said Barthet was quite far off the line.”I saw the crash on the video, … and it’s also a huge error from the racer in terms of the line,” he said. “It’s a very wide line. I think (she was) 20 meters outside the ideal line. Of course we try to keep the hill in great shape from B fence to B fence, but I think we need to accept that we can’t have the same condition at the widest lines as we do on the race line. One of the reasons we push the fences so far out is to avoid that they hit the B nets after a crash.” The Americans were split on the issue of safety, but most thought the race should be run.”It’s hard to say weather it’s safe or not,” Lindsey Vonn said. “It depends on your skill level. For me, I definitely was not confident. It’s really difficult especially with flat light, and you can’t see how deep the snow is until you stick your foot in there, and you never know if your foot is going to stay there or keep going. Meissnitzer crashed on the second gate, so it shows you (that) you don’t have to be going fast to crash. It’s just thick snow, and it’s tough to maneuver.” Julia Mancuso thought the course was fine.”It wasn’t necessarily unsafe because the speeds weren’t that high, but it was bumpy and there was lots of soft snow,” she said.”Any place, whether it was European or in the United States, they would have run it today because the weather came in after it started,” Kaylin Richardson said. “The track was fine. It was when girls got offline like when I did or (Barthet) did.” After Barthet’s crash, a fog rolled in on the top half of the course, and after a 20-minute course hold, officials decided to call the race, leaving 19 racers without a start.Saturday’s downhill was moved down to the super-G start after racer inspection in the morning. “The snow was really bad, and the start from the top was not possible,” said German Maria Riesch. “The snow was also bad at the top section of this start, so it may not have made a difference.”

Only 30 skiers had finished when officials called off the race, assuring that all finishers would receive World Cup points.Caroline Lalive and Vail’s Julia Littman, both injured U.S. Ski Team members, were in attendance, as well as former racer Kristina Koznick and Tamara McKinney. McKinney was the last American woman to win the Aspen downhill. The word of Britt Janyk’s victory must have traveled fast. In the finish corral after some interviews, Janyk finally got a chance to look at her cell phone. “Ten missed calls and nine new messages,” she said.Second-place finisher Marlies Schild, of Austria, extended her lead on teammate Hosp in the overall by 80 points. Mancuso is sixth, while Kildow is ninth. In the Ladies Nations Cup, Austria has 1,333 points, more than double those of second-place Italy (641). The U.S. is in third with 527.Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at icropp@vaildaily.com or 748-2935.


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