St. Anton, Austria Feb. 7, 2001 (USSA)–Anja Paerson of Sweden, who earned the gold medal in slalom and GS last February at the WorldJunior Championships in Quebec City, picked up the biggest title of her career Wednesday night in horrid conditions to win theslalom at the World Alpine Ski Championships. Kristina Koznick (Burnsville, MN) was eighth.
Paerson, throwing huge, kick turns around some gates to overcome deepening ruts in the soft snow, started No. 3 and had thefirst-run lead and finished with a total time of 1:32.95 as hometown icon Ingemar Stenmark watched from the bottom of the course;when it was done, Stenmark – who holds the alltime record with 86 World Cup wins – gave the 19-year-old from Tarnaby acongratulatory hug.
Before a crowd of about 18,000 spectators, Chistelle Saioni of France was silver medalist in 1:33.56 and Hedda Berntsen of Norway,who didn’t start racing until she was 17 and later raced at Middlebury College – took the bronze in 1:33.99.
Koznick, starting sixth, was fourth in the first run but made several mistakes high on her second run and never got untracked. SarahSchleper (Vail, CO) fell on her first run.
Daytime temperatures reached into he mid-30s and although organizers put chemicals on the course, the weather didn’t give themany break and the snow never set-up. Ruts developed immediately and racers were ping-ponged all over the course; 40 skiers in thefield of 88 went out in the first run.
“It wasn’t my idea of how this night would go,” Koznick said. “The course wasn’t in the best condition, but there also wasn’t muchthey could do about it because it’s so warm.”
At the same time, Koznick noted, “That’s not a fluke podium. They’re all quality skiers.”
Coach Marjan Cernigoj said the course “was the worst of the season.” FIS Race Director Kurt Hoch refused to accept responsibilityfor the conditions because, according to Cernigoj, “he was mad at the organizers that the base preparation of this hill was notadequate.”
In a related development, the coach said Caroline Lalive (Steamboat Springs, CO) – who had to withdraw from the slalom afterjamming her left knee in SL training earlier in the day – would fly home Saturday to be examined by Dr. Richard Steadman at theSteadman-Hawkins Clinic in Vail.
The women’s portion of the World Championships conclude Saturday with the slalom.