Maria Riesch leads 1st run of Olympic slalom as best friend Lindsey Vonn skies out

Friday, February 26, 2010

Maria Riesch leads slalom as Lindsey Vonn goes out

WHISTLER, British Columbia — Maria Riesch of Germany skied through steady snow and led the first run of the women’s slalom Friday, as Lindsey Vonn skied out in her final race of the Winter Olympics.

Riesch timed 50.75 seconds as her best friend and big rival Vonn went out in the top half.

Vonn straddled a gate when she could not correct her line after her right, outside ski slid away coming out of a left-hand turn.

“I went out there fighting and it just wasn’t my day,” said Vonn, who will leave the Vancouver Games with a gold medal from her signature downhill event and a bronze in the super-G. “I’m totally satisfied with everything I have done here. I have the gold medal I came here for.”

Riesch said the soft, wet snow Friday created spring-like rather than winter conditions.

“Everybody has to take it like it is. We had some chances to train in soft snow when all the downhill trainings were canceled,” the 25-year-old Riesch said.

Sarka Zahrobska of the Czech Republic was second, 0.40 second behind, and Marlies Schild of Austria trailed Riesch by 0.65 in third. Zahrobska won slalom gold at the 2007 World Championships, and Schild got bronze in slalom at the 2006 Turin Games.

Riesch, who already has the gold medal in super-combined, was a strong prerace favorite. She won the slalom at the 2009 worlds — leaving Zahrobska with silver — and leads the season-long World Cup slalom standings.

Her younger sister, Susanne, was fourth, with 0.71 to make up in the second leg.

Riesch said the prospect of two sisters sharing the medal podium was “absolutely unbelievable.”

The last siblings to win medals in the same Alpine event were American twins Phil and Steve Mahre, who went 1-2 in slalom at the 1984 Sarajevo Games.

Vonn, who spends each Christmas holidays with the Riesch family in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, said she hoped both sisters would win medals Friday.

“Of course, I’m cheering for the Americans, but I would love to see my friends on the podium, as well,” he said.

Sarah Schleper of the U.S. was ninth Friday, 1.08 back, despite starting No. 26 in deteriorating conditions.

Schleper revealed she stopped being nervous and was stung into action by a mishap minutes before racing.

“I had a pleasant distraction — well, not pleasant, it kind of hurt. I got my face bashed up on the way down to the start, so I didn’t have to think too much,” she said.

Defending champion Anja Paerson was a distant 2.18 back in 20th place as she chased a record seventh career Olympic medal in women’s Alpine racing.

“It was tough. This Olympics has been all about the weather,” said Paerson, who won bronze in super-combined.

The 28-year-old Swedish standout said it was “probably” the last Olympic race of her career.

“I’m totally committed to the last run, and I’m going to do my best and not think too much,” Paerson said.

The highest-ranked slalom racers had the early start numbers and the best conditions as the clinging snow slowed the course. Rain and fog was forecast for the afternoon.

The seven fastest finishers in the morning all came from the first nine starters. Vonn was No. 10.

“It will get much worse, especially for the second run,” said Tanja Poutiainen of Finland, who placed sixth with 0.92 to make up.

Sandrine Aubert of France, who was seventh, said the course was “deteriorating a bit.”

The field of 87 women raced on the Dave Murray course, used for the men’s races, after their first four races were staged on the adjoining Franz’s Run slope.

Hailey Duke of Boise, Idaho, and Megan McJames of Park City, Utah, placed outside the top 30. Duke was 3.27 behind Riesch and McJames trailed by 3.66.

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