Semmering, Austria, Dec. 30, 2000--Sarah Schleper (Vail, CO), who gave herself an early Christmas present with the first podium of hercareer, celebrated the new millennium a couple of days early Saturday by collecting another top-3. Attacking fiercely on the secondrun - to help wash away the frustration of a second-run mistake that cost her another podium two days earlier in slalom - moved herup nine places to finish third behind Swiss racer Sonja Nef in a giant slalom.
"I made a breakthrough in warmup this morning. I figured out what I've been trying to figure out," Schleper said, explaining she'd beenworking on a technique to help accelerate out of the start. The discovery powered a pair of aggressive runs that gave her matchingpodiums - one in slalom (Dec. 10 in Sestriere, Italy) and one in GS (Saturday).
"I like that," she said.
Despite an overnight storm that left several inches of soft snow, women's GS/SL Head Coach Georg Capaul said, "She had two greatruns. On the first run, she had the fastest midway time, and that was starting 33rd. Sarah was so fast on the top...she told me after thewarmup, which was a lousy warmup on a short hill, maybe 12 gates, she said, "I feel it now. I know....' and she obviously did."
Best U.S. GS Showing in Seven Years
Nef - who won the second GS of the season during the Chevy Truck America's Opening in Park City, Utah, and then again Dec. 19 inSestriere, Italy - completed a GS "hat trick" for the season as she took the first-run lead and held on to win in 2:23.16. Swissteammate Corinne Rey-Bellet was runnerup in 2:23.79.
Schleper, who started 33rd and was 12th in the first run, had the second-fastest second run and completed the podium with the a2:24.40 clocking. Kristina Koznick (Burnsville, MN) finished 24th while Caroline Lalive (Steamboat Springs, CO) didn't qualify for asecond run.
"I had a really fast top for the first run and then at the bottom it was a little choppy
Schleper's podium was the best result by an American woman in GS since Jan. 5, 1994 when Heidi Voelker was third in Morzine, France.That performance had been the best since March 22, 1991 when Julie Parisien won the GS during World Cup Finals at New Hampshire'sWaterville Valley resort.
"I slept well last night. I woke up at 5 and thought it was 6, so I got an extra hour of sleep, or at least some more sleep. So, I wasrelaxed," Schleper said. "I know I'm gonna do bad if I'm nervous the night before, but last night I was relaxed."
Schleper had been third Thursday night in the first run of a slalom in Semmering. However, she made a bad mistake late in her secondrun, falling back on her skis, and only a Herculean save enabled her to finish sixth.
""This is awesome," she said. "Like the slalom, I would've been happy with a top-10. And then a top-5. And I couldn't believe it, top-3...
"The visibility on the first run wasn't great, but it got better in the afternoon," she said. "It was pretty exciting...top-3...wow!"
She called her father to tell of the latest podium "and he knew. I wanted to be the one who told him, but he already knew because he'dbeen following the race on the Internet, so that was kinda cool."
Reigning World Cup GS champion Michaela Dorfmeister of Austria was fourth (2:24.48) and another Austrian, Brigitte Obermoser,finished fifth (2:24.76). Martina Ertl of Germany yielded the World Cup points lead she's held since winning the first race of the seasonwhen she skied out on her second run. Croatian Janica Kostelic, who is 5-for-5 in slaloms this winter in coming back from kneesurgery, was seventh Saturday and moved into the overall lead. There was concern Ertl may have re-torn ligaments when she crashed,but details were not immediately available.
"Last year, Sarah won the second run in slalom in Maribor and was seventh. Now, we want a podium. We're not satisfied unless wehave a podium," Capaul said. "It's been frustrating because we've been sayinng - telling the girls - we're skiing good GS, but we didn'thave the World Cup results to prove it. Obviously, this gives us a big boost to know we're right on track. Y'know, you can only tell thegirls 'You're okay, you're okay' for so long. But, if the results don't come, you start to doubt it. But we are okay...and it's gonna getbetter."
After the new year (millennium), the U.S. women will train near Schladming, Austria, before heading to Maribor, Slovenia, for anotherGS/slalom pairing Jan. 6-7. Kostelic turns 19 next Friday, so the crowd in Maribor from Croatia is expected to be huge.
Cafe de Colombia World Cup, Semmering, AUT - Dec. 30
1. Sonja Nef, Switzerland, 2:23.16
2. Corinne Rey-Bellet, Switzerland, 2:23.79
3. Sarah Schleper, Vail, Colo., 2:24.40
4. Michaela Dorfmeister, Austria, 2:24.48
5. Brigitte Obermoser, Austria, 2:24.76
6. Tanja Poutiainen, Finland, 2:24.78
7. Janica Kostelic, Croatia, 2:24.80
8. Karen Putzer, Italy, 2:24.94
9. Lilian Kummer, Switzerland, 2:25.02
10. Birgit Heeb, Liechtenstein, 2:25.05
11. Christiane Mitterwallner, Austria, 2:25.30
12. Alexandra Meissnitzer, Austria, 2:25.36
13. Anna Ottosson, Sweden, 2:25.49
14. Christel Saioni, France, 2:25.53
15. Allison Forsyth, Canada, 2:25.58
16. Silke Bachmann, Italy, 2:25.66
17. Selina Heregger, Austria, 2:25.68
18. Britt Janyk, Canada, 2:25.90
19. Ylva Nowen, Sweden, 2:26.10
20. Kumiko Kashiwagi, Japan, 2:26.13
21. Silvia Berger, Austria, 2:26.32
22. Petra Haltmayer, Germany, 2:26.51
23. Stefanie Schuster, Austria, 2:26.88
24. Kristina Koznick, Burnsville, Minn., 2:26.89
25. Maddalena Planatacher, Italy, 2:27.15
26. Carolina Ruiz Castillo, Spain, 2:31.33
Did not qualify for 2nd run: Caroline Lalive, Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Cafe de Colombia World Cup
Women's Overall (17 races)
1. Kostelic, 655 points
2. Martina Ertl, Germany, 634
3. Dorfmeister, 573
4. Nef, 544
5. Regina Cavagnoud, France, 538
6. Renate Goetschl, Austria, 521
7. Obermoser, 446
8. Anja Paerson, Sweden, 426
9. Isolde Kostner, Italy, 419
10. Rey-Bellet, 400
11. Carole Montillet, France, 301
12. Trine Bakke, Norway, 275
13. Haltmayer, 256
14. Saioni, 252
15. Koznick, 213
16. Schleper, 206
25. Jonna Mendes, Heavenly, Calif., 142
39. Kirsten Clark, Raymond, Maine, 90
52. Megan Gerety, Anchorage, Alaska, 56
56. Lalive, 49
59. Alison Powers, Winter Park, Colo., 46
102. Picabo Street, Park City, Utah, 7
Women's GS (5 races)
1. Nef, 376
2. Dorfmeister, 281
3. Paerson, 280
4. Ertl, 236
5. Obermoser, 226
6. Putzer, 147
7. Rey-Bellet, 143
8. Kostelic, 139
9. Andrine Flemmen, Norway, 109
10. Cavagnoud, 108
18. Schleper, 64
23. Koznick, 47
50. Clark, 5