Friday, December 31, 2010

Riesch extends World Cup lead in Austria

Courtesy photo by Getty Images/AFP—Oliver Morin Steven Nyman charges the challenging Bormio downhill in Wednesday’s race.

By the U.S. Ski Team and Idaho Mountain Express

Germany's Maria Riesch took advantage of a DNF by American rival Lindsey Vonn in Wednesday's World Cup night slalom at Semmering, Austria to extend her overall lead over Vonn from 41 to 121 points in the season standings.

Riesch stormed from 17th to second place, gaining a considerable buffer in the overall chase as Vonn was looped off course in the opening run and did not finish. In the standings, Riesch has 738 points (240 slalom) and Vonn has 617 for second. American Julia Mancuso is seventh with 339 entering the New Year.

The World Cup overall men's standings got incredibly tight between two downhillers with the staging of Wednesday's annual downhill at Bormio, Italy. Austria's Michael Walchhofer won the race by an .08 second margin over runner-up Silvan Zurbriggen of Switzerland.

In the overall ranks, Zurbriggen has 395 points and second-place Walchhofer has 394. Walchhofer holds the downhill lead 245-230 over Zurbriggen. In third place is American Ted Ligety (321, 300 in giant slalom). Bode Miller is 20th (135).

Here's a look at Wednesday's races and where the World Cup tour goes from here in the New Year:

Home country win at Semmering

Austrian red flares erupted from a rowdy crowd of 14,000 Wednesday as Marlies Schild of Austria set off New Year's fireworks in Semmering with a wire-to-wire Audi FIS Alpine World Cup slalom victory, her third win of the season. She defeated runner-up Riesch by .32 seconds.

Top American Sarah Schleper (Vail, Colo.) had a stunning run going before being bounced offline lower on the course to finish 28th after landing ninth in the opening run.

"It's very disappointing because she (Schleper) would have been on the podium easily today," said Head Coach Alex Hoedlmoser. "She was here to race and to be on the podium and not just to be top 30 and that's how she skied. She shouldn't be disappointed at all because she knows she has the speed."

"I honestly wish I knew what happened," said Vonn, who leads the downhill, super G and super combined standings. "My skis just hooked up with the snow and I was launched off course."

"Usually what happens when Lindsey is not in the race anymore is that Maria goes for it because she has nothing to lose," added Hoedlmoser of Riesch's lightning-fast second run, which nearly eclipsed Schild's 1.2-second advantage.

Julia Mancuso (Squaw Valley, Calif.), Resi Stiegler (Jackson Hole, Wyo.) and Hailey Duke (Boise, Idaho) missed qualifying for the second run.

Mancuso and Vonn will now head to Munich, Germany for a Jan. 2 parallel slalom at the Munich Olympic Park, home of the 1972 Olympic Summer Games.

"It's going to be a great show," said Hoedlmoser. "It's good for the sport to have city events—it's good to promote the sport with a big-city crowd and the girls have a great chance there to be on the podium."

World Cup points and over $100,000 in prize money are up for grabs as the top 15 men and women in the overall standings go head-to-head in a single elimination battle this coming Sunday. World Cup giant slalom leader Ted Ligety (Park City, Utah) will represent the men as Universal Sports streams the event live online at 10:30 a.m. ET on Sunday.

Solid downhill for Americans

Bode Miller (Franconia, N.H.) led a U.S. trio into the top 20 with eighth in Wednesday's Audi FIS Alpine World Cup downhill at Bormio. Steven Nyman (Sundance, Utah) finished 11th and World Cup rookie Travis Ganong (Squaw Valley, Calif.) was 20th.

Bormio is known among the racers as one of the most strenuous, if not the most strenuous, course on the World Cup circuit. But the U.S. was up to the challenge. Nyman scored his best World Cup result since Val Gardena in 2008, while Ganong raced to a career best finish and first World Cup downhill points.

Despite having teammate Marco Sullivan (Squaw Valley, Calif.) injured in Tuesday's downhill training, Miller, Nyman and Ganong showed their focus and strength on race day. Erik Fisher (Middleton, Idaho) and Andrew Weibrecht (Lake Placid, N.Y.) were also on the injured reserve list with injuries prior to Bormio.

Nyman led the surge, kicking out of the start gate first onto a clean course. He proved he is 100 percent healthy, crossing the finish line with a career-best 11th in Bormio.

"I was actually pretty psyched with starting first because all last year I never drew in the top seven and had a clean course," Nyman said. "Starting one I could see what I needed to do and was feeling more and more confident in myself."

Miller was the next U.S. man to push out of the gate, laying it on the line in true Bode Miller fashion. Showing he's still one of the fastest guys on the tour, Miller was nailing the top sections before a few mistakes cost him some time, bumping him back to eighth in the overall results.

Bormio first-timer Ganong took to the challenging hill next, despite admitting that Bormio was the stop about which he was most nervous all season.

"This hill is crazy," he said. "It's a real-deal downhill, bumpy, fast, icy and dark. It's just tough skiing from top to bottom and I came through today. In my mind this is the toughest hill, but it turns out I really like it. It's really turny and suits my more technical style."

The U.S. Alpine Ski Team's speed crew will return stateside for a break before heading back to Europe for the second half of the World Cup circuit. Part two will kick off with the famed Lauberhorn races at Wengen, Switzerland, Jan. 11-14.

The next stop on the World Cup tour is Munich, Germany, Jan. 2, where World Cup giant slalom leader Ted Ligety (Park City, Utah) will be representing the U.S. in the parallel slalom city event.

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