By the U.S. Ski Team
Slalom racing took center stage as the 2010-11 Audi FIS Alpine World Cup invaded Levi, Finland for the second stop of the season. It was the first event for the World Cup men, fogged out in Austria during late October.
Austria's Marlies Schild won Saturday's women's slalom with Vail's Lindsey Vonn in sixth place, less than a second off the winning pace. Olympian Will Brandenburg of Spokane, Wash. was in eighth place after the first run of Sunday's men's slalom but straddled a gate in the second heat. Ted Ligety finished up 18th.
Here are U.S. Ski Team notes from the Finland races:
Schild tops women in slalom
Reigning Olympic slalom gold medalist and world champion Maria Riesch of Germany let over a half second lead slip Saturday as Austrian Marlies Schild captured the opening slalom of the 2011 Audi FIS Alpine World Cup season.
Three-time World Cup overall champion Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO) went down on her hip mid-run, yet made an athletic recovery to finish sixth and secure valuable early season points.
Vonn hammered the top portion of the slope before her skis slid wide and engaged hard on a right hand turn midway down the Levi Black steeps. It dropped the Olympic gold medalist to her hip and sent her rocketing across the slope. The countless hours of off-season strength training paid off as she made a strong recovery to regain her balance and continue to charge.
"I'd say that mistake cost me eight tenths to a full second," said Vonn. "I've never made a recovery move like I made today and that is directly attributed to the fitness training that I did this summer and the different exercises I've been doing. Just my overall agility is better and I'm happy I was able to stick with it and get some important points toward the overall."
"Lindsey came out of that hairpin with a huge amount of speed and just got a little out of balance," added women's tech Head Coach Trevor Wagner. "It was an amazing recovery. She was so far off line and pulled it back together. Without that mistake, she would have been right in there. It was an incredible performance."
Despite the finish, Vonn missed the Levi podium for the first time in three years after landing second there a year ago and winning the event in 2008.
The story from Levi may very well be the German women's technical team as eight women crowded the top 30, adding to their incredible performance in Soelden where Germany went 1-2 with three in the top five.
With temperatures hovering just above 15 degrees and light rapidly fading throughout the second run, Schild punished the slope to climb from fifth to the win in a two-run combined time of 1:52.84, .03 in front of Riesch.
It was Schild's second consecutive World Cup slalom win adding to her victory at the 2010 World Cup Finals in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany—home of the 2011 World Championships in February.
The grippy snow caused havoc for later starters including Sarah Schleper (Vail, CO), Megan McJames (Park City, UT) and Hailey Duke (Boise, ID) as all three other American starters finished outside the first run top 30.
"The snow was actually great, it was just a little bit more aggressive than we anticipated," added Vonn. "I think everyone's skis were a little bit too sharp, which is a good problem to have. We've got a final training block in Vail for the next couple of weeks and then we head over to Aspen for Thanksgiving and onto Lake Louise. It's going to be an exciting couple of weeks in North America."
The U.S. Ski Team will now return to Colorado for two more weeks of training before the World Cup season begins en force with the annual Aspen Winternational Thanksgiving weekend in Aspen.
Men's slalom at Levi
Action in Levi continued Sunday with men's slalom featuring Olympic gold medalists Bode Miller (Franconia, NH) and Ted Ligety (Park City, UT).
Olympian Will Brandenburg (Spokane, WA) was eighth after the first run and well on his way to his first Audi FIS Alpine World Cup top 10 Sunday, when he was disqualified after straddling a gate on the steep part of the course.
Ted Ligety (Park City, UT) climbed eight slots in the second run to top the Americans with 18th. Jean-Baptiste Grange of France, who missed most of last season with an ACL tear, earned the wire-to-wire slalom victory.
"I know I can compete with the best in the world now," said Brandenburg, who was 10th in the Olympic super combined. "I was actually pretty surprised with where I was in the first run. I didn't think I skied that great. The second run I felt more comfortable and pushed it a little bit more on the pitch."
"Will absolutely showed he's got world class speed," said men's technical Head Coach Mike Day. "He'll make his way into the 30 and into the 15. He was on a good line and skiing solid, it was just an unfortunate straddle and that happens in slalom."
Brandenburg credits the extra time in the Center of Excellence this summer to progressing his skiing. Fitness, he said, has been the key to maximizing his training and translating that success onto the race hill.
"The hard work in the gym is definitely the biggest step I made this summer," said Brandenburg, who will return to Park City for a week before flying to Lake Louise, Canada for the opening speed races. "I'm stronger and I'm 10 pounds lighter, which makes me a little bit quicker down the hill for sure."
A tricky top section in the first run played havoc on the field as 30 of the 80 starters when out in the first run, including Olympic champion Bode Miller (Franconia, NH), Nolan Kasper (Warren, VT) and Tim Jitloff (Reno, NV).
World Cup rookie Colby Granstrom (Lake Stevens, WA) showed promise on the top before hiking after missing a gate down the pitch.
The Vancouver slalom podium did an Olympic shuffle as slalom bronze medalist Andre Myhrer of Sweden put the second run pedal down to finish second ahead of Croatian silver medalist Ivica Kostelic.
"Ted did a better job in the second run," Day said. "He knows he has a ton more speed and can do a better job. It'll just take some more time and he'll be right in there. It was a solid result and didn't do any damage.
"Neither run was spectacular, but I tied my best at Levi, which is very mediocre," said Ligety. "The skis are getting better, it just takes time to fully adjust especially in slalom. With things being as quick as they are, even with a little mistake, you can lose a lot of time fast."
Ligety will. return to Colorado for a few days of downhill training before the World Cup speed season opens in Lake Louise, Canada on Thanksgiving weekend followed by the storied Birds of Prey race week in Beaver Creek.