St. Anton, Austria, Feb. 8, 2001--Anja Paerson of Sweden, who earned the gold medal in slalom and GS last February at the World JuniorChampionships in Quebec City, picked up the biggest title of her career Wednesday night in horrid conditions to win the slalom at the WorldAlpine Ski Championships. Kristina Koznick (Burnsville, MN) was eighth.
Paerson, throwing huge, kick turns around some gates to overcome deepening ruts in the soft snow, started No. 3 and had the first-run lead andfinished with a total time of 1:32.95 as hometown icon Ingemar Stenmark watched from the bottom of the course; when it was done, Stenmark -who holds the alltime record with 86 World Cup wins - gave the 19-year-old from Tarnaby a congratulatory hug.
Before a crowd of about 18,000 spectators, Chistelle Saioni of France was silver medalist in 1:33.56 and Hedda Berntsen of Norway, who didn'tstart racing until she was 17 and later raced at Middlebury College - took the bronze in 1:33.99.
Koznick, starting sixth, was fourth in the first run but made several mistakes high on her second run and never got untracked. Sarah Schleper(Vail, CO) fell on her first run.
Daytime temperatures reached into he mid-30s and although organizers put chemicals on the course, the weather didn't give them any breakand the snow never set-up. Ruts developed immediately and racers were ping-ponged all over the course; 40 skiers in the field of 88 went out inthe first run.
"It wasn't my idea of how this night would go," Koznick said. "The course wasn't in the best condition, but there also wasn't much they could doabout it because it's so warm."
At the same time, Koznick noted, "That's not a fluke podium. They're all quality skiers."
Coach Marjan Cernigoj said the course "was the worst of the season." FIS Race Director Kurt Hoch refused to accept responsibility for theconditions because, according to Cernigoj, "he was mad at the organizers that the base preparation of this hill was not adequate."
In a related development, the coach said Caroline Lalive (Steamboat Springs, CO) - who had to withdraw from the slalom after jamming her leftknee in SL training earlier in the day - would fly home Saturday to be examined by Dr. Richard Steadman at the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic in Vail.
The women's portion of the World Championships conclude Saturday with the slalom.
2001 World Alpine Ski Championships
St. Anton,AUT - Feb. 7
Women's Slalom (Nighttime)
1. Anja Paerson, Sweden, 1:32.95
2. Christelle Saioni, France, 1:33.56
3. Hedda Berntsen, Norway, 1:33.99
4. Sabine Egger, Austria, 1:34.13
5. Janica Kostelic, Croatia, 1:34.40
8. Kristina Koznick, Burnsville, MN, 1:35.75
Did not finish: Sarah Schleper, Vail, CO