Vail’s Schleper and Vonn Olympics-bound |

Vail’s Schleper and Vonn Olympics-bound

Chris Freud
Vail, CO Colorado
Sarah Schleper of the United States reacts in the finish area after placing fifth in the alpine ski, Women's World Cup Slalom race, in Lienz, Austria, Tuesday Dec. 29, 2009. (AP Photo/Giovanni Auletta)

There were no surprises with the announcement of the U.S. Olympic Alpine Ski Team on Tuesday, but there was gratification, nonetheless.

Vail’s Sarah Schleper is going to her fourth Winter Olympics, while this marks No. 3 for Vail’s Lindsey Vonn.

“We set out with the goal to make it to Vancouver. My sight has always been set on winning a medal, but just making the team is a huge accomplishment,” Schleper said via e-mail Tuesday. “I am overjoyed, and really, I think this is the biggest accomplishment of all of my Olympic teams.”-

While the announcement was delayed several times based on quotas – the numbers of spots in the Games a country can use for its athletes; those unused get reallocated and, thus, the delay – neither Schleper’s nor Vonn’s spots were in question.

Schleper is tied for 19th in the world in giant slalom and the top American in the discipline and 25th in slalom, the No. 2 American behind Vonn in the points. With top 10s in both disciplines this season, the 30-year-old was set – she got her tickets to Vancouver, British Columbia, last week.

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Vonn was a no-brainer, as well. She’s only the two-time defending World Cup overall champion and en route to No. 3 this season.

Nonetheless, it’s still a big moment and these two skiers have goals to accomplish.

Comeback kid

Schleper blew out her knee right after the 2006 Games in Torino, Italy, where she had an Olympic best 10th-place finish in slalom. She took the 2006-07 year off to recuperate.

That turned into a two-year absence when she met and married Federico Gaxiola and they welcomed their son, Lasse, into the world.

This was not without its costs athletically. She dropped down to the B Team, by the time she returned for the 2008-09 season, and had to ski her way back. She started racing a variety of FIS, Europa Cup and Nor-Ams to get back in the swing of things. (By the way, she was second Tuesday in a FIS GS in Crans Montana, Switzerland.)

She really made a splash with her second-place slalom finish at the U.S. National Championships in Alaska in March. In World Cup circles, that made her comeback official with an eighth in Are, Sweden, in GS, and a fifth in Flachau, Austria, in slalom.

“I can’t believe I am here at this stage in my life,” Schleper said again via e-mail. “A mother, a wife and qualified for my fourth Olympic team. Dreams are coming true.-

“The challenges have been huge. Getting strong after injury and then again after birth. Getting into the groove of racing and keeping up with the younger kids, who are bringing more modern styles and a very risky attitude top the list of obstacles and challenges. Not to mention raising a kid while training at an Olympic caliber. My husband has been the rock of this success. Without him, I wouldn’t have made it.”-

The Schleper family naturally is thrilled. They’ve gone with Sarah to Nagano in 1998, Salt Lake in 2002, Torino in 2006 and now are going to Vancouver.

“What’s cool is that not only are my parents going to be in the finish watching me race in my final Olympic races but so will my 2-year-old son, Lasse,” Schleper wrote. “To have his support is going to be the motivation to go really fast on those Olympic courses.-

“I am proud to represent Vail the hometown and all the people who have helped me get to the pinnacle of my career. Vail has been the foundation for the skier I am. I mean, what a backyard. The best mountain on earth, and I have skied everywhere.”-

Vonn’s ready

Honestly, no announcement was needed for Vonn. She was a mortal lock for the Games before the first snowflake fell this winter.

Yet she has done nothing to muddle her chances this season. She’s won every downhill this season. She’s No. 1 in super-G with three more wins there. Vonn also holds down the top spot in the super combined. She enters the Games as the unquestionable favorite in the speed events.

The scary part is that Vonn is ranked No. 13 in slalom and 28th in GS. She has won World Cup slalom races, and so she is a medal threat in the tech events.

There are only two things missing in Vonn’s magnificent career to date, however. A GS win and an Olympic medal. As far as the latter goes, while most people remember her crash in Torino, Vonn’s best Olympic finish came in Salt Lake in 2002 – sixth in the combined.

“With Lindsey, there’s potential in every event,” U.S. Ski Team coach Jim Tracy said in Tuesday’s press release announcing the team. “She’s put in the hard work to make it happen and has proven she can, but the cream of the crop will be there, and they all have the same goal. She’s said it better than anyone; if she wins one medal of any color, she’ll be happy. Everything else will be a bonus.”

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or

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