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St. Anton, Austria Feb. 9, 2001–A storm rolled in for the women’s GS, and far fewer spectators rolled in as well. Maybe it was the weather, or maybe these people are finally showing the symptoms of excessive celebrating. You definitely get the feeling that for the people of St. Anton, Sunday-and a chance to take back their town-can’t come soon enough.Rough day at the races, literally. The new snow only made the preparation problems worse, with the course deteriorating significantly after only a few racers. Bad visibility made negotiating the minefield even more difficult. The result was a huge time spread between the top two racers and the rest of the field. Switzerland’s Sonja Nef, with five World Cup wins this season, and Italy’s Karin Putzer were well ahead of the field. Putzer started first and Nef second. The rest of the field visibly struggled, and the oft-heard “Kein chance” became the phrase of the day.
As if to justify the complaints about the first run, the second proved to be equally as brutal to later runners. To punctuate the advantage of running first, Switzerland’s Lilian Kummer, fifteenth after the first run and a whopping 3.6 seconds behind Nef, vaulted her way to 4th with the advantage of a clean course in the second run.That advantage was almost Kristina Koznick’s for the taking. Koz finished the first run in 16th position, one place away from lucky 15. “In good conditions my GS is ok, but when it gets rough, I have a hard time working the ski. I just don’t have enough miles, ” she said.
In the end the first run results were the final medal results, with Nef taking gold, Putzer silver and Sweden’s Paerson bronze. After her victory in the slalom it is apparent that Paerson has no problem in alpine rodeo. “I guess I’m used to it from the Europa Cup.”
Again, the Austrians emerged medal-less. Anita Wachter, who will turn 34 this Monday and is in her last World Championships, was the sentimental favorite for the Austrians. Though she barely made the St.Anton team, her past results were reason enough to give her one more shot. Wachter first stepped on a World Cup podium at 17. Since then she has won 19 World Cups and 8 World Championship and Olympic medals. Wachter, was one of the few racers who appeared to be giving Nef and Putzer a challenge, until she slid on her side and out of the course before the final pitch. Despite the fanfare around the Austrian team, pressure wasn’t a factor for Wachter. “I didn’t have great results this year, so I knew I had to go all-out and that’s what I did.” Is this her last stand? “I don’t know. Sometimes I look forward to retiring, and sometimes I don’t. Ski racing is a hard life, but it’s also a good life.”
American Sarah Schleper fell in the same place as Wachter. She too was faster and more aggressive than those around her, but the frustration and disappointment was more acute. One week after Wachter turns 34, Schleper turns 22. For her, the journey is just beginning, and these championships are a learning experience. Though she came in as a legitimate contender in two events, Schleper leaves with two DNF’s, and two important lessons:”First, I need to have a plan for every race, and a back-up plan in case weather and conditions change.” When the women’s slalom was changed to a night slalom, she didn’t quite know how to prepare for the race. And when it became apparent that the conditions on course were horrendous, she wasn’t prepared to switch into combat mode. “And second,” she said, “is that I need to learn not to make stupid mistakes.” Here she is referring to the GS. “I knew it was rough, and the word at the start was that girls were getting tired at the end and losing time.” So, in the one little flat section before the final steep, she tried to back off for a second, take a deep breath and then charge the final steep. That’s when she went down. “That was a stupid mistake.” Schleper doesn’t come away with any medals this time, but she comes away a liittle wiser.
“Attacking Vikings” scaling backKjetil Andre Aamodt and Lasse Kjus, the Norwegian five-event duo, are planning to mellow out a bit next season. Kjus says he will race a handful of World Cup races to be in top shape for the Olympics. And Aamodt says that next season he will specialize, either in the technical or the speed events. Although he has not officially decided, the only gold medal that has escaped him is the Downhill gold.