Soelden, Austria Oct. 27, 2001 (USSA)--Michaela Dorfmeister of Austria, looking as much at home on a giant slalom course as she did winning the gold medal in downhill at last February's World Championships, tore through a sun-splashed second run Saturday to win the opening race of the Olympic season by .41 over Sonja Nef of Switzerland. Kristina Koznick (Burnsville, MN) had the best U.S. result, finishing 15th.
Dorfmeister, second behind Nef in the first run, finished with a two-run total of 2:28.38 with Nef, who had won six straight giant slaloms and is the defending World Cup and reigning world champion, timed in 2:28.79. Frenchwoman Regine Cavagnoud hung-up the fastest second run and finished third in 2:29.98. Completing the top five on the Rettenbach Glacier: Canadian Allison Forsyth of Canada in fourth place and Maria Jose Rienda Contreras of Spain in fifth.
"It's a perfect season start. Winning here was a major goal for me," Dorfmeister said. "I was very fast in the lower part but i was a little surprised. I thought with the softer snow it would be tougher, so I really attacked to make-up time." She overcame a .15 deficit after the first run.
Nef told reporters, "Yes, there was a lot of pressure on me with the win streak, but not as much as at the World Championships last February. I skied very well in the steep section but made some mistakes at the bottom. I'm still happy with my finish."
Although she trained a lot of GS early in the summer, Cavanoud explained she had suffered a bad fall in training in August, suffering a concussion, which has taken time to recover from. "I was aiming for a top result here but not thinking about the podium," she explained.
For the three U.S. women, Koznick was 26th in the first run and, with the eight-fastest second run, moved into the top 15; her total time was 2:31.55. Schleper, 20th in the first run, finished 28th (2:32.27) while Caroline Lalive (Steamboat Springs, CO), starting 51st, failed to make the second-run cut.
Koznick, who conceded she was "more nervous than normal" before the race, was 26th after the first run and, starting fifth in the flip-30 format for the final run, attacked to move up substantially. "It's like a preseason race. We have one more month until Aspen The Chevy Truck Aspen Winternational Nov. 22-25, until the season really gets into full swing. No one wants to peak now," she said. "To walk away from here and to have done some good things is all anyone wants. For everybody to be three-quarters ready but to be on a challenging hill is hard...
"In my heart, I wanted to be top 15, but I knew my GS training wasn't going that great. My slalom training has been great but my GS was just okay. I knew I could be top 20 and if I did that I think I'm set-up nicely for Aspen. Actually, about two weeks ago I was upset one day in training. 'I'm on a plateau and I feel like I'm hitting my head against the wall.' But in GS I went from 70th in the world to start the 2000 season to being in the top 30, but the jumps don't keep going like that. This year," Koznick said, "technically, I'm much better in GS than last year."
She said one major goal this winter is "to be unafraid, when I get to the finish to know I put everything on the line. I was pretty nervous this morning -- I don't know why -- but I went for it. I made one huge mistake in the first run, but I got the opportunity to go again and I definitely feel like I showed myself this GS is something I can do, can do top 10, top 10 and gradually break in. I still had a little mistake on my second run but I was much more aggressive."
Schleper, who had a podium in both GS and slalom a year ago, said making the top-30 cutoff in the first run after hyper-extending her lweft leg Friday in training helped her relax a bit. "This has a strong pitch but it doesn't seem that hard. I thought I had it scouted pretty good. It was kidn of weird Friday -- I caught an edge and hyper-extended my leg. It was prretty good today, so I could pick it up...and I got a result," she said.
"If my results get better every time, it'll be a good GS year," she said.