LEVI, Finland - Reigning overall and downhill World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO) captured the first World Cup slalom podium of her career with a decisive victory at the opening slalom of the 2009 Audi FIS World Cup season in Finland Saturday. The win vaulted her into the World Cup lead.
Universal Sports will air coverage of Vonn's historic first slalom win on the Universal Sports 24-hour TV network and free online streaming at UniversalSports.com beginning at 2 p.m. ET.
"It's just mind boggling to me that I'm wearing the red bib in slalom," said Vonn. "This is such an incredible way to start the season, there's no way I could have predicted my first win would be a slalom."
Traditionally the most dominant speed skier on the World Cup, Vonn picked up from her historic '08 season, where she won the second run of slalom at the March World Cup Finals in Bormio, Italy. It was that slalom result which secured her the overall World Cup title; the first time an American had captured the coveted trophy since Tamara McKinney in 1983.
Vonn fast in Levi
The three best slalom results of her career have now come courtesy of the Black slope. During back-to-back races held in March of 2006, she finished fourth and sixth respectively. It was the 14th World Cup victory of her career.
"I love Levi, this hill just suits me so well, it's a lot like Minnesota with a flat section followed by some really steep gates. Normally I'm not that good on the steeps, but I've been working really closely with Rossignol on my skis and they're feeling so good," she said.
Vonn led the entire race carrying a .22 second cushion out of the first run. She was gaining speed throughout the second run, then nearly missed a gate at the halfway point. Incredibly, she recovered to finish .40 in front of second place finisher Maria Pietilae-Holmner of Sweden with a final time of 1:47.98. Vonn's best friend and top competitor Maria Riesch of Germany was third.
Fellow U.S. Ski Team racer Sarah Schleper (also Vail) finished 25th in only her second World Cup race after a returning from a two-year hiatus from ski racing. Hailey Duke (Boise, ID), the only other American starter, didn't make the top 30 after the first run.
"This was completely wild. If you were to ask me when Vonn would get her first win of the year, everyone would say Lake Louise. But she totally deserved this," said Head Slalom Coach Trevor Wagner. "Halfway down she shot way out and was completely off the gate, but then threw it into another gear and hammered all the way to the finish."
Originally from Minnesota, Vonn cut her ski racing teeth in Erich Sailer's club program at Buck Hill, just South of the twin cities. With an elevation of 309 feet, slalom was her specialty while growing through the U.S. Ski Team pipeline. It wasn't until her family moved to Colorado that she began getting serious about speed.
"I'm dedicating this victory to Buck Hill and Minnesota," Vonn said. "I've already received an email of congratulations from my old coach Erich Sailer. It feel's pretty good to go back to my roots and know that I can ski well again in slalom."
That focus led to her becoming the most successful downhiller in American history, surpassing childhood hero Picabo Street and Daron Rahlves with 10 World Cup wins last season. But according to Vonn, this one is extra sweet.
"I went from barely being in the top 30 to the top 15 in one race, that's pretty sweet. A lot of it has to do with the training I had in New Zealand over the summer. I trained with the men's World Cup and Europa Cup Team on injected snow and also did some training with Erik Schlopy (Park City, UT) last week in at Copper Mountain in Colorado. The preparation was there," she said.
In her first slalom since the 2006 Olympics, Schleper tied for 30th in the first run and was looking solid through her second when she missed a gate over a difficult roll in the course. She stopped quick enough to hike back for the gate and finish the run. She ended up 25th but was too far back in time to gain World Cup points.
"What 'Schlep' did today was amazing. It's been two years and eight months since her last slalom race, so for her to make the top 30 today was a big victory. Sure, it's a bummer she didn't score, but this is big for her confidence. We'll get Kaylin [Richardson; Edina, MN], Hailey, and Julia [Mancuso; Olympic Valley, CA] going in Aspen and we're going to have one solid slalom program," said Wagner.
Vonn would also like nothing more than to carry this momentum into the Aspen Winternational set for Thanksgiving Weekend in Aspen, CO.
"Last season, I was psyched to be racing a downhill in Aspen and now this season I'm going to be just as excited to be racing a slalom there," Vonn said. "Being able to go into my home races with the leader bib is pretty special," she said.
Action continued Sunday from Levi with reigning World Cup giant slalom champion Ted Ligety (Park City, UT) and overall World Cup champion Bode Miller (Franconia, NH) lining up for another slalom at the World Cup's swing through the Arctic Circle.
2008 AUDI FIS ALPINE WORLD CUP
Levi, Finland – Nov. 15, 2008
1. Lindsey Vonn, Vail, CO, 1:47.98
2. Maria Pietilae-Holmner, Sweden, 1:48.38
3. Maria Riesch, Germany, 1:48.64
4. Nicole Hosp, Austria, 1:48.94
5. Veronika Zuzulova, Slovakia, 1:49.10
25. Sarah Schleper, Vail, CO, 2:02.54
Did not qualify for second run : Hailey Duke, Boise, ID
For complete results: fis-ski.com