SESTRIERE, Italy March 14, 2004 (USST) - Sarah Schleper (Vail, CO), who took time off a month ago because of back problems, finished her season Sunday in seventh place in a giant slalom won by all-conquering Anja Paerson of Sweden. Paerson, the women's World Cup overall, slalom and GS champ, had the fastest second run en route to her 11th win of the season.
Paerson, whose first victories this winter came during the Chevy Truck America's Opening at Utah's Park City Mountain Resort in November, had a winning time of 2:13.70. She came into the season with 11 World Cup victories; after her fifth win in GS Sunday, she has 22 wins - starting Dec. 3, 1998 in the Chevrolet California Classic slalom at Mammoth Mountain, Calif. Italy's Denise Karbon, the first-run leader, was second in 2:14.81.
Schleper, the lone U.S. woman to make Finals in GS, attacked on her final run and posted the fourth-fastest second run to move up from 13th behind Karbon after the first run. Her final time was 2:15.66 - boosting her over the 400-point level for the season and giving the U.S. women two beyond the coveted level, which provides favored-start status for races. Three-event racer Kirsten Clark (Raymond, ME), who has been sidelined since midseason with a broken wrist and knee injuries, had 456 points despite missing the last six weeks of the season. That's the first time the U.S. women have had two over 400 points since the 1995 season when Picabo Street and Hilary Lindh accomplished the feat.
"I'm psyched. I'm really psyched," Schleper said. "I'm really surprised. I figured out racing and training are totally different. I've kinda separated them; race day is different. I've just accepted it...and now it's different."
She returned home a month ago for treatment of two bulging discs in her lower back, missing two slaloms and GS. She was "skeptical" of returning for World Cup Finals, Schleper said, but wanted to race "to see if I could improve my standings...and I didn't want to lose any more in my slalom ranking." Her second-place finish helped stem the erosion in points; Schleper finished the season 17th overall - 11th in slalom, 12th in GS.
"I'm going to take about three or four months off, do some core strength work and let my back rest some more," she said. "I'm totally psyched about being more consistent next season."
The next racing for U.S. skiers will be the Chevrolet U.S. Alpine Championships at week's end at Alyeska resort in Alaska.