SOELDEN, Austria Oct. 25, 2003 (USSA)--Vail's Sarah Schleper overcame a first-run mistake Saturday and had the fifth-fastest second run to finish seventh in the World Cup giant slalom, the best U.S. women's result in the early-season races on the Rettenbach Glacier. Martina Ertl of Germany won when Spaniard Maria Jose Reinda Contreras ran into second-run problems.
Ertl's winning time was 2:31.86 with Sweden's Anja Paerson second in 2:32.06. Schleper, who tied for 13th in the first run, finished in 2:34.30 under a cloudless sky with temperatures - in the mid-teens for the start of the race on the Rettenbach Glacier - in the upper 20s. It was the first U.S. women's top-10 since the International Ski Federation went to the early season races on a European glacier in October 1993, also in Soelden. The best previous women's result was Eva Twardokens' 12th in that inaugural GS 10 years ago.
"I'm psyched. The atmosphere on our team is getting better and better after it was tough at the start with the new coaches," Schleper said. "Now, though, I appreciate the change. It's awesome. They're not controlling, not telling us something every run, just there to support us and it's been great.
"I'm believing more and more in myself. The first run I made a pretty bad mistake coming onto the flats and that cost me a bit. I let it go in the second run. I wanted to pickup some momentum here and keep taking it to the next race and then the one after that. This is right on track for me...
"It was a fun race - a Colorado bluebird day."
Women's Head Coach Patrick Riml was pleased with the day, which included Kirsten Clark (Raymond, ME) in 23rd place and Caroline Lalive (Steamboat Springs, CO), bouncing back from knee surgery and two broken ribs following a World Cup downhill crash March 1 outside Innsbruck, in 28th place. Kristina Koznick (Eagan, MN), who injured a hip in a training fall at midweek, did not start as a precautionary move and Julia Mancuso (Olympic Valley, CA) didn't qualify for a second run.
"This is really great for Sarah and it's good for the entire team," Riml said. "It was our best-ever performance at Soelden, so it's a good way to start the season.
"Caroline was great in her very first race back from injury. It's for her to be in the top 30."
The race was hotly contested and by one of the widest range of nations ever. Skiers from nine different nations finished in the top nine.
Memories of a blazing hot summer, which melted areas of the Rettenbach Glacier, and the baren landscape just three weeks ago, were far behind. Temperatures dipped to around 15 degrees Fahrenheit, and snowfall extended well down the mountain to the village of Soelden nearly 6,000 feet below. Close to 15 feet of snow had fallen in the past three weeks, sometimes hampering training.
The men race Sunday with seven U.S. starters - reigning world GS champion Bode Miller (Franconia, NH), Erik Schlopy (Park City, UT - bronze medalist in GS at the 2003 Worlds), Thomas Vonn (Newburgh, NY), Dane Spencer (Boise, ID), Daron Rahlves (Sugar Bowl, CA), T.J. Lanning (Park City, UT), and making his first World Cup GS start, reigning Nor Am overall and GE champion Jesse Marshall (Pittsfield, VT).