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Zagreb slalom: Schild, Zettel steal thunder from Kostelic

Zagreb slalom: Schild, Zettel steal thunder from KostelicZAGREB, Croatia – Ground-shaking cheers went up at the Sljeme ski area on Thursday night when local hero Janica Kostelic finished on the podium despite losing her pole and mitten while pushing from the starting gate.

Kostelic said she nearly stopped because of the pain, but kept going for the sake of her fans.

”It hurt so much I wanted to quit – but I can move two fingers, so it isn’t broken,” Kostelic said. ”I came into the flat, saw I had 20 gates left and thought I had to finish – or they (the crowd) would kill me.”

The mishap occured on the second run of the Zagreb slalom, which in two years has already established itself as one of the most well-organized, well-funded and popular races on the tour.

An official estimate of 25,000 people were on hand to see Kostelic attempt to win a race on Jan. 5, which happens to be her 24th birthday.

“I wanted to give something back to all the people that were working for so long here at Sljeme,” she said. “I gt myself into trouble, but then I just focused on my run.”
But Austria’s Marlies Schild won her second straight World Cup slalom race. “It was a wonderful race,” said Schild, who said she hurt her back on the second run. “The audience, they were very fair.”

The race has a record prize purse of 165,000 euros total ($195,000 U.S.), and as race winner Schild got a record 60,000-euro check for the win ($72,628 U.S.).

”I’m feeling very confident right now – I hope I keep my form until February,” Schild said of the upcoming Olympics.

Schild captured the sixth win of her career in 1 minute, 53.63 seconds amid steady snowfall. Fellow Austrian Kathrin Zettel was second in 1:54.07 and Kostelic was third in 1:55.08.

The fans, most of whom came to see Kostelic, who grew up in Zagreb and learned to ski on the Sljeme slope, gasped in horror as Kostelic dropped her pole while pushing out of the start gate.

But they roared when Kostelic came through the two splits with a second-and-a-half lead and finished with what then stood as a 1.99 lead in the race.

Ultimately only Zettel and Schild could bump her down, but Kostelic’s third place allowed her to keep the lead in the overall World Cup standings over Anja Paerson, as well as the slalom standings.

The triple Olympic champion has 280 points in the slalom with Schild at 260.

Kostelic last year left the course in tears after also drawing a huge crowd when she missed a gate 20 seconds into her first run.

This year, the Zagreb event has been renamed the Snow Queen Trophy after Kostelic’s nickname of Snow Queen in her homeland.

The 19-year-old Zettel matched her career best with second. Kostelic has called her the future of women’s slalom. ”That’s a big honor for me. It puts pressure on me, but it’s also very encouraging,” Zettel said.

There were four Americans in the top 15, with Kristina Koznick seventh, Resi Stiegler 10th, Lindsey Kildow 13th and Sarah Schleper 17th.

‘I’m happy because I made a couple of mistakes and know I can do so much better’ Stiegler said. ‘The snow was great. I wish every race was like this because the crowd was so supportive for everybody. They love everyone and cheer for all the racers, not just the Croatians.’

Last year was first time Croatia hosted an alpine World Cup race, and Kostelic crashed as Tanja Poutiainen of Finland won the first ever World Cup held here in this ski-crazed country, clinching the slalom title.
This was the fourth of nine slaloms on the women’s calendar this season. The previous three were at Aspen on Dec. 12, Spindleruv Mlyn on Dec. 22 and Lienz on Dec. 29. The next five are at Maribor, Slovenia (Jan. 8); Ofterschwang, Germany (Feb. 5); Levi, Finland (March 10 and 11); and Are, Sweden (the season’s penultimate race, March 17).
The Maribor race is now the only slalom remaining before the U.S. Ski Team makes its Olympic team selection. Kristina Koznick and Resi Stiegler appear to have strong arguments for inclusion, although the decision won’t be announced until Jan. 25.

Paerson raced on new skis, having broken the pair that she used in the two slaloms that she won this season (Aspen and Spindleruv Mlyn).

How it went for the Americans
Sarah Schleper was the first racer out of the start gate, and met wild cheers. ‘I love this, it feels like a real professional event, like a soccer game’ she said after finishing eighth on the first run. ‘There are fans up and down the course the whole way, and you can hear them the whole way.’

Schleper placed 17th with a time of 1:57.78.
Lindsey Kildow continued to embrace her roots as a slalom skier, finishing 16th on the first run and 13th in the race. ‘She used to worry so much about trying to qualify in the tech events, and now she just attacks for a good result’ said her boyfriend, U.S. Ski Team alum Thomas Vonn, who is traveling on the tour with her now until the end of the Olympics.
Wearing bib No. 50, Vermont’s Lauren Ross managed to qualify for the second run, finishing 30th, which meant she started first on the second run. Ross finished 28th.

‘I tried to go for it as best as I could’ she said, ‘but I made a few bobbles. Starting that second run first was pretty sweet; the crowd was unbelievable. I’m so glad I could be part of all this.’

Kaylin Richardson failed to qualify for the second run, but said that the race was rewarding simply for the atmosphere. ‘It makes you feel, for lack of a better word, special to come to this race and be around all these fans’ she said. ‘There’s so much exposure here.’
Richardson said she would have been faster had she not been ‘looking for the groove’ instead of attacking.
Julia Mancuso was not present for the race, having carried out a longstanding plan to travel home to California for the New Year holiday. She plans to race the next World Cup at Maribor, Slovenia. Her long-lost boots are now in possession of the team.

What to watch for next
From here the women’s World Cup moves one step closer to central Europe, moving over this weekend to Maribor, Slovenia, a classic stop on the women’s World Cup calendar. They will race GS and slalom there while the men are racing the same disciplines in Adelboden, Switzerland.
A big deal
The night before the race, thousands of people packed the main city square for the bib presentation, where Americans Sarah Schleper and Kristina Koznick drew the first and second start positions, and the Village People performed in the lightly falling snow.
‘This is the biggest ski show I’ve ever seen’ said five-time overall winner Marc Girardelli from the stage, when the emcee of the event asked what he thought of the Zagreb race.
The race has a prize purse of 165,000 Euro ($195,000 U.S.), which is the largest single-start sum in the alpine World Cup.
Last year Kostelic crashed, disappointing the fans, but two younger Croatians, Nika Fleiss and Ana Jelusic, finished eighth and ninth in that race. Both are higher ranked now. ‘We have three girls in the top 15′ said V
edran Pavlek, the alpine boss of the Croatian ski team, who is also the race organizer. ‘And we still keep Janica at the top.’
Zagreb is also hoping to host a men’s World Cup race in 2008, and is presently entered on the calendar for that year’s circuit. (Click here for more.)
‘It’s beautiful and I can’t wait to start the men’s races here’ said Ivica Kostelic on Wednesday at a party following the bib ceremony. ‘It will be a great moment for me.’

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Women’s slalom
Zagreb-Sljeme, Croatia
Jan. 5, 2006

1. Marlies Schild, AUT 1:53.63
2. Kathrin Zettel, AUT 1:54.07
3. Janica Kostelic, CRO 1:55.08
4. Nicole Hosp, AUT 1:55.25
5. Anja Paerson, SWE 1:55.27
6. Tanja Poutiainen, FIN 1:55.47
7. Kristina Koznick, USA 1:55.69
8. Sarka Zahrobska, CZE 1:56.96
9. Therese Borsson, SWE 1:57.17
10. Resi Stiegler, USA 1:57,24
11. Annemarie Gerg, GER 1:57.34
12. Nika Fleiss, CRO 1:57.41
13. Lindsey Kildow, USA 1:57.53
14. Anja Blieninger, GER 1:57.60
15. Chiara Costazza, ITA 1:57.63
16. Michaela Kirchgasser, AUT 1:57.77
17. Sarah Schleper, USA 1:57.78
18. Manuela Moelgg, ITA 1:57.86
19. Martina Ertl-Renz, GER 1:57.88
20. Noriyo Hiroi, JPN 1:57.91
21. Sonja Nef, SUI 1:57.93
22. Laure Pequegnot, FRA 1:57.99
23. Veronika Zuzulova, SVK 1:58.07
24. Annalisa Ceresa, ITA 1:58.11
25. Ana Jelusic, CRO 1:58.18
26. Vanessa Vidal, FRA 1:58.19
27. Lene Loeseth, NOR 1:58.72
28. Lauren Ross, USA 1:59.06
29. Anne-Sophie Barthet, FRA 1:59.09
30. Ana Kobal, SLO 1:59.14
Other North Americans:
DNQ 2nd: Jessica Kelley, Kaylin Richardson, USA.
DNF 1st: Britt Janyk, CAN.
DSQ 1st: Brigitte Acton, CAN

By Hank McKee

Women’s slalom, Zagreb-Sljeme, Jan. 5. 2006

Skier, skis/boots/bindings
1. Schild, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
2. Zettel, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
3. Kostelic, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
4. Hosp, Volkl/Fischer/Marker
5. Paerson, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
6. Poutiainen, Volkl/Tecnica/Marker
7. Koznick, Volkl/Tecnica/Marker
8. Zahrobska, Head/Head/Tyrolia
9. Borsson, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
10. Stiegler, Dynastar/Lange/Look

Women’s slalom, Zagreb-Sljeme, Croatia, Jan. 5, 2006. … It is the 14th race of the women’s 34 race, two combined World Cup schedule. … It is the fourth of nine scheduled slaloms. … It is the second World Cup alpine event ever held in Croatia.

It is the sixth career win for Marlies Schild, fifth in slalom. … It is her second win of the season and second in a row. … She also has two additional podiums this season, both in Spindleruv Mlyn Dec. 21 (GS) and 22 (SL). … She won both runs. … It is the 12th Austrian win of the season.

It is the fourth career podium for Kathrin Zettel, all of them this season. … She has been in the top five of each of the eight races she has completed this season.

It is the 44th career podium for Janica Kostelic. … Her 30th in slalom. … It is her sixth podium of the season. … She has scored in all 14 races held this season and been on the podium in every slalom. … It is the first time Kostelic has completed a World Cup in her home country, having been a first-run DNF a season ago (Jan. 20, 2005).

It is the 40th top-seven career finish for Kristina Koznick. … It is her second-best result of the season, the first a fourth at Lienz (SL) Dec. 29. … It is the first top 10 of the season and fifth career for Resi Stiegler. … Lindsey Kildow matches her third-best career slalom finish. … It is her second-best of the season behind eighth at Lienz Dec. 29. … It is the 70th career top-20 finish for Sarah Schleper. … It is her second result of the season, having delayed her start to injury. … It is the fourth career scoring result for Lauren Ross and second of the season after Lienz Dec. 29. … She also scored at Zagreb last season. … She was the final qualifier for a second run.

No change at the top of the World Cup standings. … Kostelic maintains first overall 652-585 over Anja Paerson (fifth in race) with Michael Dorfmeister (did not race) third at 510. … Kathrin Zettel moves up to fourth at 470 and Lindsey Kildow is the top American in fifth at 449. … Kostelic maintains the slalom lead 280-260 for Marlies Schild with Paerson in third at 245 and Zettel fourth at 230. … Koznick is the top American on the slalom list in seventh at 130. … Winning margin is .44 of a second, and third is 1.45 seconds back. … Seventh is two seconds out, and eighth three seconds out.

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