Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, Austria March 6, 2002 (USSA)--Caroline Lalive (Steamboat Springs, CO) came out of a tough late starting position to record the best downhill finish of her career Wednesday in the FIS World Cup finals in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee. Lalive was second behind Austrian Michaela Dorfmeister, leading three Americans in the top-eight. World Junior champion Julia Mancuso (Olympic Valley, CA), just 17 years old, was fifth with Kirsten Clark (Raymond, ME) eighth.
It was one of the more impressive overall showings for the U.S. women's downhill squad since the World Championships in 1996 when Picabo Street, Hilary Lindh and Megan Gerety finished one-three-five in Sierra Nevada, Spain.
"Today was for all the non-believers," said Women's Downhill Coach Jim Tracy. "It's too bad some of the non-believers don't know these athletes like our staff does. We deal with them every day of the year and know what they're capable of doing. Today they showed it!"
Dorfmeister, who had her own Olympic troubles two weeks earlier at Snowbasin, won in 1:40.09 coming out of the number nine start position on a very warm, variable day. Lalive actually held the lead through the first two intermediate times and finished second .19 back. French skier Melanie Suchet was third. Mancuso, just days after taking three golds in the World Junior Alpine Championships, was .63 back from Dorfmeister in fifth with Clark eighth, .87 back. Snow conditions were extremely soft, with the sun dipping in and out of clouds all day. Clark hit about the worst conditions with rain starting just as the headed onto the mile-and-a-half course.
Dormeister's finish clinched the overall World Cup title with three races to go, with teammate Renate Goetschl second but out for the season with an injury suffered a week ago. Swiss Sonja Nef is third, but can't catch Dormeister. Italian Isolde Kostner took the season downhill title despite finishing 12th. Lalive was the top American in the downhill standings in 14th. It also brought Lalive to 343 points for the season. A third or better in the super G on Thursday would give her 400+ points and make her eligible for the World Cup finals giant slalom or slalom this weekend.
"After the Olympics I was really disappointed and I asked myself, 'why do I ski race?'" said Lalive. "But I love it, that's why! I'm blessed to be able to do it so I might as well go out there and have fun. Through all the hard times I'm learning a lot of myself. It's also a credit for my entire support team, my coaches, my technicians the whole staff -- I credit them a lot for my success today."
Lalive was happy with the course, which seemed to suit her. "It's more on the technical side, which suits my style. I went into these races with an open mind and without expectations, just wanting to ski well. That's something that got away from me at the Olympics -- focusing too much on the results. Today I focused just on execution and the results just came."
Mancuso had the benefit of youthful exuberance and tremendous confidence coming off a triple-gold performance at World Juniors, which ended Sunday in Italy. "It wasn't a surprise to us that Julia (Mancuso) won the world junior title," said Tracy. "but this is a big step up for her today! She's gaining some very valuable experience for a 17-year old. We've had her in some World Cups this year to get experience running against the top girls. This is a real confidence builder."
"Julia is phenomenal," said Head Women's Coach Marjan Cernigoj. "To have a 17-year old in the top-five in a World Cup downhill, it just doesn't happen. It's amazing!"
"I really had no expectations coming in here," said Mancuso. "I just wanted to ski each section well and figured I would be fine. I actually didn't think I was that fast, especially at the top where they had reset a section from training.
"When I got down I couldn't figure out the scoreboard," she added. "I kept looking and saw this (number) five andd then all of a sudden it hit me."