February 16, 2006
SAN SICARIO, Italy (AP by Andrew Dampf)—Resi Stiegler is the American skier with the Olympics in her blood. As the youngest member of the U.S. Ski Team at 20, she's also being groomed as the next great all-around skier on an already-talented squad and hopes Friday's Alpine combined event will be her coming out party.
Great skiing runs in the family.
Stiegler's father is a national hero _ in Austria.
Pepi Stiegler was the 1964 Olympic slalom champion. After his racing career, he moved from Austria to Wyoming and became the director of the ski school at Jackson Hole. Resi _ pronounced RACE-ee _ grew up skiing to the bus stop from her mountain home in Wyoming's Grand Tetons.
"She was born in the U.S., but she has some Austrian blood in her, said U.S. women's coach Patrick Riml, himself Austrian.
Europeans have long dominated skiing and are the favorites for the event scheduled for Friday but threatened by predictions of wind and snow.
The combined race is perhaps the best test of all-around talent because it adds the times from one high-speed downhill run to two turn-filled slalom legs.
The event also shows how far ahead Janica Kostelic of Croatia and Anja Paerson of Sweden are in women's skiing.
If the weather holds, Friday's race could be the first at these games between the two rival favorites _ a showdown that was to begin with Wednesday's downhill, until an ill Kostelic withdrew.
Kostelic has won the last six combined races she's entered, including the last Olympics and the past two world championships. The spokesman for the Croatian women's team said Thursday that Kostelic is feeling better but won't decide whether she'll compete until race morning.[pagebreak]Paerson has entered three combined races in her career _ and finished second behind Kostelic each time. She already has a medal at these games: a bronze in Wednesday's downhill.
The Americans have top contenders in Julia Mancuso and Lindsey Kildow, who didn't ski at all Thursday after returning from a bone-jarring crash earlier in the week and tying for eighth in the downhill.
Morning snow forced organizers to cancel training for the downhill portion of the event and Kildow participated in the team picture.
"She's smiling. She's feeling better than she did yesterday, Riml said.
Stiegler always seems to be smiling.
She's a ball of energy who wears stuffed tiger ears on her helmet when she races slalom, her forte. She isn't afraid to say what's on her mind.
Take her analysis of the food in the Olympic Village: "I've never eaten such bad food in my life. ... One of my teammates thought she was eating cat at one point. Even the pasta is horrible.
Stiegler boasts credentials for the combined.
Stiegler won silver in the event at last season's junior world championships and was 10th at the 2003 senior worlds.[pagebreak]Her specialty is slalom and the best result of her career was a sixth-place finish in the slalom at last season's senior worlds. It showed her knack for putting up good results at big events. To finish high Friday she'll have to make sure not to lose too much time in the downhill.
"Combined is my big thing right now, Stiegler said. "If you think about it, it's probably the coolest event we have. Any skier that can ski downhill and slalom is amazing. Those are the two most drastic combinations you got.
Stiegler had a slow start this season, missing the first two months following a training crash in October. Shortly after she came back, she crashed again in training.
"I went off a jump backward, crashed and went into the cow pasture. It wasn't very much fun, Stiegler said. "Now I'm feeling great.
Riml said the injuries have slowed Stiegler's development as an all-around skier.
"We've had to narrow the focus down and focus on her strengths, he said. "She's had some good slalom results this season. Next year we'll push her on giant slalom and then hopefully get her going in the speed evennts.
Her goal for now, in her first Olympics, is to add another gold medal to the family collection.
"I think I could win, she said. "You never know. It's the Olympics.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press