GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany – Before the world championships Marlies Schild said that a gold medal would be about the most important thing she could think of achieving in her racing career. Not everyone gets what they want, but the Austrian did on Saturday, putting down a first-run lead as she so often has this season and then hanging on for the victory.
Although the 29-year-old has won eight medals – five world championship and three Olympic – the victory in Garmisch is the first gold of her long career.
“It’s an amazing feeling. I already can’t believe it,” Schild said. “It was difficult. Everyone wanted me to stay on the top after this race and it was hard for me not to think about it because I wanted it, too. It was a really difficult race for me. My heart was beating at the start of the second run like it never did, but now I’m really happy.”
After leading the first run, Schild won with a total time of 1 minute, 45.79 seconds. Putting down her best performance this season, which has been riddled by hip pain and skipped races, fellow Austrian Kathrin Zettel came through for the silver medal on Saturday, finishing 0.34 seconds behind her teammate.
“It was so hard a time, from summer to the winter, every time I had pain and problems. It’s not what I wanted it to be,” said Zettel, who has missed several races this season – including a chance to defend her 2009 title in the world champs super-combined race a few days ago, to nurse a sore right hip. “I wanted to be faster and make more podiums, so I can’t believe that I made this podium here. I still have pain but I’m quite strong in my head. Mentally, it worked a lot today. I’m so happy about the medal.”
Etching another achievement into what has been the best season of her racing career, Sweden’s Maria Pietilae-Holmner took the bronze, 0.65 seconds back.
The 24-year-old has become a slalom specialist this season, although her only other medal was silver in giant slalom four years ago in Are. She narrowly missed a medal in the Olympic slalom race, finishing fourth last February and only podiumed on the World Cup once (Levi slalom 2008) before she won her first World Cup race this season – the slalom in Aspen. She went on to win the Munich city parallel slalom event and hasn’t finished worse than 11th in any slalom race this season, which she says is clearly the best to date of her career.
“It’s absolutely the best season. I am really happy about the medal,” Pietilae-Holmner said. “It wasn’t the easiest conditions. I just had one focus, to really keep up my tempo and go really hard. I think that paid off.”
Conditions were spring-like on the Gudiberg slope in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and became progressively softer and bumpier.
Schild, appropriately wearing bib No. 1, put down the fastest first run time, although Tanja Poutiainen was only 0.21 seconds back, Zettel 0.61 seconds back, Pietilae-Holmner, 0.79 seconds back and hometown favorite Maria Riesch 0.80 seconds back going into the second run.
One thing that helped Schild keep her focus going into the second run was putting a smile on her boyfriend’s face, as his world championships didn’t work out so well. Benjamin Raich eliminated himself for the rest of the racing season when he tore a knee ligament competing in the world championship Nations Team event earlier in the week (in which the Austrians nonetheless took silver).
“I thought maybe it would make him happy if I won,” Schild said. “I have a lot of different emotions now. With Benni hurt on Wednesday, I was and am really sad about that, but today I tried to focus on the race. I did it now and it’s amazing.”
The second run did not bode so well for Poutiainen, though for half of it she was leading and on her way to winning a medal. Then she got off rhythm had to throw her skis sideways to stay on course and ended up tied for sixth place with Manuela Moelgg, 1.86 seconds off Schild’s winning time.
Also, Riesch – who won bronze medals in the Garmisch super G and downhill championship races – said she didn’t feel well in her second run, where she, too, had one big mistake but still crossed the finish line in the lead. She ended up in the fourth place spot, 1.34 seconds out.
“I was hoping for a medal but Marlies is simply too strong,” Riesch said. “She was chasing a gold medal for a long time. I did not feel well during the entire run. But I am satisfied with the two bronze medals.”
World giant slalom champion Tina Maze landed in fifth place in the slalom, 1.76 seconds back as Swedish skier Frida Hansdotter notched her top result of the slalom season in eighth, 2.05 seconds out, Nastasia Noens was ninth, 2.39 seconds out and Veronika Zuzulova 10th, 2.40 seconds out.
Although Schild had the fastest first run, Canada’s Erin Mielzynski, wearing bib No. 36, had the fastest second run of the day. Finishing 29th in the first run, Mielzynksi’s second run was 52.07 seconds, nearly a second faster than anyone else’s (although Zettel, Pietilae-Holmner and Zuzulova’s second runs were also under 53 seconds).
American veteran Sarah Schleper, who turned 32 on Saturday, was 13th in the first run and leading in the second run when she straddled a gate and tumbled off-course and Susanne Riesch, whose fan club may have been even larger than her sister’s, was tripped up on the same gate in the second run. Michaela Kirchgasser, who was sixth after the first run, also stumbled onto the DNF list.
Here's some video with Schild, Zettel and Pietilae-Holmner.
Click here for full results from Saturday’s world championship ladies slalom.
by Shauna Farnellfirstname.lastname@example.org