LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland (Feb. 24) -- "I definitely made some mistakes in the training runs, but I watched videos and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I talked it over with the coaches...and I just executed," a jubilant Kirsten Clark (Raymond, ME) said Saturday after skiing through short-lived sunshine to collect her first World Cup victory after poor weather erased two days of downhill training.
It was the first U.S. women's downhill win since Hilary Lindh took the DH gold medal to close the 1997 World Championships, the firstWorld Cup victory (Worlds races are not World Cups) since Picabo Street (Park City, UT) won in Narvik, Norway, at the end of the '96season as she clinched her second World Cup DH crown. Coincidentally, Street had her best result Saturday in nearly three years,coming out of a 37th place start to finish seventh.
New snow and fog shut down training Thursday and Friday after two training runs Wednesday. An overnight cold front, though, helpedsolidify course conditions and Clark, who skied fifth, tore through the snow with a nearly flawless run to win in 1:27.07.
Regine Cavagnoud of France, who won super G gold at the recent World Championships, was runner-up in 1:27.41 and Petra Haltmayer of Germany, whose first World Cup win came earlier this season in a DH at Lake Louise, was third with a 1:27.71 clocking as light now returned during the race.
THREE U.S. WOMEN IN TOP 10
Clark, a 23-year-old out of Carrabassett Valley Academy, led three U.S. skiers into the top 10; in addition to Street in seventh (1:27.87), Megan Gerety (Anchorage, AK) finished eighth in 1:27.92. Jonna Mendes (Heavenly, CA) was 22nd in 1:28.86.
"It was exciting. I stayed until the last skier came down," Clark said, "and I said, 'Well, I guess it's real'...definitely very exciting. It was a good feeling."
She said there was no magical breakthrough with the victory. That had come, she said, "in St. Anton Austria when I won the combined downhill at Worlds and realized I could win a downhill. This just adds to my confidence."
"It was an incredible run. 'Clarky' skied so well," said Head Coach Marjan Cernigoj. "We got a little lucky with the weather -- it was sunshine when she went and clouds moved in later for girls at the back, but the same thing happened to us last year -- we had a couple of girls in the top 10 when the sunshine came and the top skiers came from the back."
Women's DH/SG Head Coach Jim Tracy added, "This was so awesome. When we were going out, Marjan and I were saying maybe we didn't get much luck with Jonna skiing No. 2 and Clarky No. 5 going early. But the organizers did a great job preparing the course and when it got colder, the course set up nicely. If you got off-course, like Jonna did in a couple of spots, and like Megan did in one spot, the snow was like glue...but otherwise the course was great."
WEATHER THREATENED EARLY
Clark said she was concerned the race might not happen. "We had the last two days off because of the snow," she said, "and then today we went up and it was clear, but then the fog came back in. It didn't look very good."
"I mean, I got to the start and it was just socked-in. The start was set for 12:30...and then the fog cleared out. It definitely was flat light for the later girls," she said, "but I had sunshine when I went."
"I definitely skied a clean run from top to bottom. I made no mistakes," she said.
Cavagnoud and reigning World Cup champion Renate Goetschl of Austria won the two training runs Wednesday; Street was third in the second session. Clark used the two days between the training and Saturday run to visualize how she could clean up her race.
"It was so great to execute the way I wanted to. It was definitely a long wait to that last racer," she said, "but it feels so good."
Single-digit cold before dawn helped reduce problems from soft snow "and they did a good job working it the course all day," said Cernigoj, who reported it was -14 ddegrees Celsius (six degrees Farenheit), which helped harden the snow. "The course stood up well all day," he said.
The women have a super G Sunday, the last race, before the World Cup Finals March 7-11 in Are, Sweden. Cernigoj said Street missed qualifying for Finals by two points; she was 26th in the standings -- and No. 25 was teammate Alison Powers (Winter Park, CO), whose season ended a month ago with a knee injury. U.S. skiers qualified for DH at the World Cup Finals are Clark, Mendes, Gerety and Caroline Lalive (Steamboat Springs, CO), who also qualified in slalom. Kristina Koznick (Burnsville, MN) and Sarah Schleper (Vail, CO) qualified in SL and giant slalom.
CAFE de COLOMBIA WORLD CUP
Lenzerheide, SUI - Feb. 24
1. Kirsten Clark, Raymond, Maine, 1:27.07
2. Regine Cavagnoud, France, 1:27.41
3. Petra Haltmayer, Germany, 1:27.71
4. Ingeborg Helen Marken, Norway, 1:27.73
5. Corinne Rey Bellet, Switzerland, 1:27.92
7. Picabo Street, Park City, Utah, 1:27.87
8. Megan Gerety, Anchorage, Alaska, 1:27.92
22. Jonna Mendes, Heavenly, Calif., 1:28.86
This and more World Cup coverage courtesy of the U.S. Ski Team.