St. ANTON, Austria (Jan. 29) - Pre-race favorite Regine Cavagnoud of France opened the 2001 World Alpine Ski Championships in sizzling fashion Monday, winning the gold medal in super G by .05 over Italian Isolde Kostner with Megan Gerety (Anchorage, AK) fourth, just .07 away from a medal.
ESPN2 will broadcast coverage tonight at 7 EST, the start of an unprecedented 20-plus hours of World Championships TV coverage from ESPN andNBC.
In a squeaker of an opening race that featured skiers returning from a series of injuries in recent seasons, Cavagnoud was timed in 1:23.44 with Kostner taking silver in 1:23.49. Hilde Gerg of Germany - World Junior Championships gold medalist at New York's Whiteface Mountain outside Lake Placid, N.Y., in 1994 and then Olympic slalom champ in 1998 in Japan - took the bronze in 1:23.52.
Gerety, coming back from leg problems a year ago, was fourth in 1:23.59, a tenth of a second ahead of another Frenchwoman, Carole Montillet. Kirsten Clark (Raymond, ME) was ninth with a time of 1:23.86 and Jonna Mendes (Heavenly, CA) tied for 18th in 1:24.76 after losing time at the bottom when she hooked a gate with her right arm. Carole Lalive (Steamboat Springs, CO), bidding to be the first American to ski all five events at a World Championships, got off to a rocky start as she crashed on the lower half of the course, but she skied down the hill - although tenderly - on her own.
Cavagnoud - who began her rebound from knee surgery (torn right ACL during downhill training at the '99 Worlds in Vail, Colo.) by winning a giant slalom at Copper Mountain, Colo., in November 1999 - said the injuries made her stronger. "This is really a major success," she told a press conference. "I've suffered a lot of injuries and had to start from scratch after every injury. I think I've been courageous to come back every time ... skiing gives me courage."
Gerg, who fractured her left leg last season, said, "For me, it's almost like winning the '98 Olympic slalom a few years ago. It's so great to come back..."
Gerety, who has battled leg problems in recent years - including all of last season, said she prefers not to think about winning medals. One of her major goals this season, she said, is finishing in the top 10 in the World Cup downhill points. Still, her near-miss Monday brought to mind her 1996 World Championships downhill race in which Picabo Street (Park City, UT) won gold and Hilary Lindh (Juneau, AK) took the bronze, and Gerety was fifth.
Monday, she stood by herself watching the rest of the field take its run at her time. "For a minute there, I was thinking, 'Wow! I might be on the podium' - and that was pretty cool. And then Gerg nipped me and now, of course," she said, laughing, "I'm pissed."
Lalive went down hard as she started a left turn in the midsection of the course. Her right ski kicked out and she crossed her tips, sending her tumbling onto her back and into the safety nets. After a delay of 10 minutes, she came down the hill and returned to the Ski Team hotel to be examined by the team's medical personnel.
At the '99 World Championships in Vail and Beaver Creek, Colo., Austrian women took all six medals in the downhill and super G races. Opening in their homeland for '01, they went 0-for-Monday; the top result came from defending world SG champion Alexandra Meissnitzer, who was a distant eighth while Renate Goetschl, the reigning World Cup overall champion, crashed.
U.S. DH/SG Head Coach Jim Tracy, pleased with his women's showing and amazed at the tightness of the race - and the disappointing showing by the Austrian women - calmly noted, "It's going to look like World War IV in the downhill on Sunday."
WORLD ALPINE SKI CHAMPIONSHIPS St. Anton, AUT - Jan. 29 Women's Super G
1. Regine Cavagnoud, France, 1:23.44 2. Isolde Kostner, Italy, 1:23.49 3. Hilde Gerg, Germany, 1:23.52 4. Megan Gerety, Anchorage, Alaska, 1:23.59 5. Carole Montillet, France, 1:23.69 - 9. Kirsten Clark, Rayymond, Maine, 1:23.86 18T. Jonna Mendes, Heavenly, Calif., 1:24.76 Did not finish: Caroline Lalive, Steamboat Springs, Colo.
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