Semmering, Austria, Dec. 28, 2001--Sarah Schleper (Vail, CO), looking to top her pre-Christmas podium and collect her first World Cup victory, tore out of the start gate Thursday night but then had to make a miracle save at the bottom to salvage a sixth-place finish as the women's Cafe de Colombia World Cup schedule resumed with a slalom in this village outside Vienna.
Janica Kostelic of Croatia, who is coming back from knee surgery a year ago, stayed bulletproof in slalom with her fifth victory of theseason. She won in 1:35.06 with Sonja Nef of Switzerland runnerup in 1:35.70 and Norway's Trine Bakke third (1:36.35).
It was the seventh SL victory in a row for Kostelic, who doesn't turn 19 until next week (Jan. 5). If she wins in Maribor, Slovenia, sheties the mark of eight straight set by Swiss icon Vreni Schneider, who won all seven slaloms in the 1989 season plus the opening SL ofWinter '90 - during the annual America's Opening festivities at Park City, Utah.
"I'm not too psyched. I had a good race," Schleper said, "but I made a big mistake and that cost me. I was thkning in the finish area,waiting for Kostelic to finish, 'Well, at least I'm putting on a good show for this big crowd'...I kinda shot out of the course and got alittle all over the place."
Schleper, third in the first run, finished in 1:36.65 while Kristina Koznick (Burnsville, MN) - fifth in the first run - failed to finish hersecond run when her binding released after she apparently jammed a slalom pole. Caroline Lalive (Steamboat Springs, CO) and TashaNelson (Mound, MN) were DNF-1.
"We wanted a podium, but we're excited about this kind of racing," women's Head SL/GS Coach Georg Capaul said. "We're greedy nowbecause we really think we can be on the podium in every race...and Sarah almost had it. As it was, even with the big mistake, she wasonly three-tenths off the podium."
Schleper, who was second Dec. 10 in a slalom in Sestriere, Italy, had the third-fastest interval time on her final run, the coach said,but about six gates from the finish - coming out of a tight set - she had problems, almost sat down and rescued her run with sheerwillpower. Her performance moves Schleper into the top 10 skiers in slalom, a preseason goal, so she should have a good startopportunity at the World Championships in a month in St. Anton, Austria.
"She came out of the start like she was gonna win this race, and that's a big breakthrough for Sarah - for all our girls, who've beenhappy in the past just to have a good finish. She wanted to win and she was really going after it," Capaul said. "But then she had a hugemistake at the bottom, about six gates from the end and she almost sat down.
"She was getting faster and faster, and she came out of this tight set a little late and then went a little too straight, and she almostsat down. We thought she was out, but she made a great save...just great."
The '98 Olympian said, "I guess I got back on her skis, but at least it was a flush, so I made it. That's slalom - just total reaction. Youtake what comes at you."
Admittedly disgruntled about letting the podium slip away, she was nonetheless pleased with being sixth and moving into the top 10."I'm happy I made it down and had a good result, but...oh well...next time..."
Snow conditions, responding to the drop in temperatures after dark, held up well, Capaul said. "If this hadn't been a night race, itwouldn't have been as good - they could've held it, but the snow would've been a lot worse. The organizers really did a fantastic job, Ihave to say. I mean, there's no snow anywhere around here for training...none! We're all facing the same problem; we could drive twohours in any direction and not get enough snow to train."
Schleper, Lalive and Koznick will race giant slalom Saturday in Semmering. Then the women head to St. Anton for a few days of GStraining before the traditional GS/SL weekend Jan. 6-7 in Maribor, Slovenia.
Cafe de Colombia World Cup, Semmering, Austria - Dec. 28
Women's Night Slalom
1. Janica Kostelic, Croatia, 1:35.06
2. Sonja Nef, Switzerland, 1:35.70
3. Trine Bakke, Norway, 1:36.35
4. Laure Pequegnot, France, 1:36.48
5. Christel Saioni, France, 1:36.60
6. Sarah Schleper, Vail, Colo., 1:36.65
7. Tanja Poutiainen, Finland, 1:36.69
8. Anja Paerson, Sweden, 1:37.21
9. Hedda Bernsten, Norway, 1:37.29
10. Noriyo Hiroi, Japan, 1:37.37
11. Martina Ertl, Germany, 1:37.68
12. Renate Goetschl, Austria, 1:37.91
13. Ylva Nowen, Sweden, 1:37.98
14. Urska Hrovat, Slovenia, 1:38.01
15. Allison Forsyth, Canada, 1:38.08
16. Zali Steggall, Australia, 1:38.29
17. Anita Wachter, Austria, 1:38.41
18. Vanessa Vidal, France, 1:38.55
19. Sabine Egger, Austria, 1:38.64
20. Kumiko Kashiwagi, Japan, 1:38.74
21. Silke Bachmann, Italy, 1:39.02
22. Alenka Dovzan, Slovenia, 1:39.09
23. Marina Huber, Germany, 1:39.58
24. Marlies Oester, Switzerland, 1:39.93
25. Emma Carrick-Anderson, Great Britain, 1:40.87
26. Monika Bergmann, Germany, 1:41.02
Did not finish 2nd run: Kristina Koznick, Burnsville, Minn.
Did not finish 1st run: Caroline Lalive, Steamboat Springs, Colo.; Tasha Nelson, Mound, Minn.
Cafe de Colombia World Cup
Women's Overall Standings (after 16 races)
1. Martina Ertl, Germany, 634
2. Janica Kostelic, Croatia, 619
3. Regine Cavagnoud, France, 538
4. Michaela Dorfmeister, Austria, 523
5. Renate Goetschl, Austria, 521
6. Sonja Nef, Switzerland, 444
7. Anja Paerson, Sweden, 426
8. Isolde Kostner, Italy, 419
9. Brigitte Obermoser, Austria, 401
10. Corinne Rey Bellet, Switzerland, 320
11. Carole Montillet, France, 301
12. Trine Bakke, Norway, 275
13. Petra Haltmayer, Germany, 247
14. Christel Saioni, France, 234
15. Kristina Koznick, Burnsville, Minn., 206
23. Sarah Schleper, Vail, Colo., 146
25. Jonna Mendes, Heavenly, Calif., 142
39. Kirsten Clark, Raymond, Maine, 90
49. Megan Gerety, Anchorage, Alaska, 56
54. Caroline Lalive, Steamboat Springs, Colo., 49
58. Alison Powers, Winter Park, Colo., 46
101. Picabo Street, Park City, Utah, 7
Cafe de Colombia World Cup
Women's Slalom Standings (after 5 races)
1. Janica Kostelic, Croatia, 500
2. Trine Bakke, Norway, 245
3. Martina Ertl, Germany, 234
4. Christel Saioni, France, 171
5. Sonja Nef, Switzerland, 168
6. Kristina Koznick, Burnsville, Minn., 166
7. Anja Paerson, Sweden, 146
8. Vanessa Vidal, France, 143
9. Sarah Schleper, Vail, Colo., 142
10. Karin Koellerer, Austria, 135
11. Laure Pequegnot, France, 119
12. Hedda Bernsten, Norway, 118
13. Spela Pretnar, Slovenia, 115
14. Tanja Poutiainen, Finland, 108
15. Urska Hrovat, Slovenia, 90
37. Caroline Lalive, Steamboat Springs, Colo., 14