Zettel leads way for Austrians
ASPEN – It was only a matter of time until Kathrin Zettel landed on top of a World Cup podium. In seven races last year, and in this year’s opener in Levi, Finland, Zettel stood above nearly all the field with a silver or bronze.But in Saturday’s giant slalom in Aspen, Zettel took her first World Cup gold, and nearly led the Austrian team to another sweep. “It’s really wonderful,” said Zettel, who placed third in both the giant slalom and slalom last year in Aspen. “I feel very real at this time. In the summer, I had a little problem with my knee, but at this time it’s OK and I feel very strong.” Finland’s Tanja Poutiainen led Zettel by 0.32 seconds after the first run, and took the silver, finishing only 0.28 seconds behind Zettel’s total time of 2 minutes, 16.10 seconds. Austria’s Michaela Kirchgasser was third, while teammate Nicole Hosp took fourth. Julia Mancuso was the top American finisher, placing seventh. Zettel, only 20, started out this year with a bronze in slalom at Levi.”After Levi, I felt much more confidence, and the pressure (fell) off me. And (skiing) seems to be easy at this time,” Zettel said.Last season, Zettel took sixth in the last year’s giant slalom points’ race, two spots behind Hosp, and seventh overall. “My biggest goal was to win my first race this year, and it happened,” Zettel said. “My next goal is to make a medal in Are, Sweden (at the World Championships).”
Poutiainen was the first non-Austrian on the podium this year for the women’s World Cup. In Levi, Marlies Schild took gold, with Hosp and Zettel following behind, respectively. “I’m really happy about the start, and (being) on the podium, and I’ll go for it again,” Poutiainen said.With all other racers having finished their second run, Poutiainen didn’t bother to look at the Austrian trio on top of the leader board. “I didn’t know that at all,” she said. “I think that’s key – you go for your own run and then see.”After winning both the giant slalom and slalom titles two years ago, Poutiainen dropped to eighth and fifth, respectively, last year. Still, Poutiainen said little changed. “(It’s) nothing special,” said the tech skier, who played soccer for most of the summer. “I had good skiing last year as well, but not quite first second or third (finishes). It was more fifth, sixth and seventh. There was nothing really wrong, but it wasn’t like the season before.” At the Torino Games last year, Poutiainen won silver in the giant slalom.”For sure, it (gave) me confidence, but the season before when I got the crystals (for the titles) – that was really good for the confidence.” Saturday’s silver was Poutiainen’s eighth World Cup giant slalom podium and 19th overall.
With nine athletes starting in a field of 64, the Austrians piled up the points again, placing four in the top 15. “When you have a strong team, it’s always better than having one girl or one man (at top),” Kirchgasser said. “Especially in training, it’s really good for us.”Even with the retirement of Michaela Dorfmeister, the Austrians have plenty of talent waiting to step in to fill the void. “It’s tough (to lose) Michaela,” Kirchgasser said. “She was a great racer and a great person, but we are a great team.”Sweden, which trails first-place Austria by 311 team points, may not have the depth of Austria, but saw two racers pick up points after Sweden’s ace Anja Paerson failed to finish her first run. Despite a smile on her face, Paerson was a little upset about her run. “I’m a good actor,” Paerson said.Maria Pietilae-Holmner sat in ninth place after her first run, and had a great second run to take fifth, her highest finish in a World Cup race.”I’m really satisfied,” Pietilae-Holmner said of her second run. “(Teammate) Jessica (Lindell-Vikarby) said on the radio, ‘Take the chance.’ I just let it go and it was a good run.” Pietilae-Holmner was thankful to have trained on similar snow to Aspen’s earlier this week in Beaver Creek”Absolutely,” she said. “We had really good training there, and I was satisfied.”Anna Ottosson put together two soild runs for an eighth-place finish. Paerson, who is still working her way back from a knee surgery in March, didn’t look like the skier who took second overall and won the giant slalom title last season. “I lost my outside ski … it just slid away and then I hit my inside ski and flew away,” Paerson said of her DNF. “You twist around and you don’t have any time to make it up.”
Saturday’s first run featured 49 gates, 46 of which were turning gates. The second run had 44 gates, 43 of which were turning.”I liked the first more … because for me a giant slalom has to be tight,” Kirchgasser said. “It’s not like last year’s (giant slaloms) where there were 33 or 34 meters between gates. That’s more of a super-G.” Thought a difficult hill, Aspen earned the praises of many racers, especially the winners.”It’s one of the nicest giant slalom hills on the World Cup,” Pietilae-Holmner said. “It’s not easy, but I liked the setting today. It was a little tight, especially in the first, but that’s how it should be. You really have to be prepared for all the changes on the course, like the rollovers and turns.” Sports writer Ian Cropp can be reached at email@example.com or 970-748-2935.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO