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Ofterschwang: From Paerson to Mancuso, Olympics dominate

Ofterschwang: From Paerson to Mancuso, Olympics dominate{mosimage}OFTERSCHWANG, Germany Everyone is getting ready for the Olympics in their own way at this weekend’s women’s World Cup races, the last before the sport’s showcase event.

A week before the Torino Games, some skiers will need to uncork a top performance in the final races. The two giant slaloms and slalom are the final opportunity to sway coaches to nominate them for a discipline at the Olympics.

Others skiers just want to build up confidence for the Olympics or sneak in a little rest after a long World Cup season. Some, like Anja Paerson, want a final tuneup for the games.

The Swede, last year’s overall World Cup champion, changed her mind about skipping this weekend’s World Cup, saying she hasn’t raced enough slaloms lately.

”I think I’m in good shape for the Olympics,” Paerson said. ”I just want to feel everything is in order.”

Paerson’s decision to race this weekend earned her criticism in Sweden, where many thought she should focus on the Olympics instead. The 24-year-old has yet to win gold at the games, even though she has been Janica Kostelic’s top rival for years as the best in women’s skiing.

Unlike some other winter sports, no top skier has elected to skip the World Cup to prepare for the Olympics. In luge and bobsled, some medal candidates even passed on possible season titles to ready themselves for the all-important games.

”The races are the best preparations for the Olympics,” said Kostelic, hoping for a repeat of her triple gold medal performance at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

The powerful Austrian team has settled on its nine Olympic skiers, but not who will compete in giant slalom. The fourth berth is open with a host of hopefuls all medal candidates led by Elisabeth Georgl.

Then there are speed stars like Alexandra Meissnitzer and downhill season champion Michaela Dorfmeister, who could snatch away the spot with an unexpected podium finish this weekend.

”All of them still have a chance to earn their ticket,” Austria coach Herbert Mandl said.

The American team, best behind the Austrians, hasn’t been nearly as good in the slalom and giant slaloms this season as the faster downhill and super G.

But their medal hopes for the Olympics soared with some strong performances in last weekend’s giant slalom at Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy, especially from Julia Mancuso.

Mancuso returned to form with a fifth-place finish in the giant slalom, an event in which she won a bronze at the 2005 worlds, along with the same medal in super-G.

That giant slalom result came after a great weekend for the 21-year-old, who grabbed second in both the downhill and super G.

”This will just give me a little more confidence,” Mancuso said.

This weekend’s races will take place on the rarely used Oberschwang course, where only two World Cups have been held. Race officials were working feverishly Wednesday to harden up snow melted by warm days for Thursday’s giant slalom.

The two giant slaloms could also produce a favorite in the discipline each of the five races this season have produced a different winner. In the slalom, Austria’s Marlies Schild will be out to uphold her dominance with

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