Levi Women's Preview
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2010 AT 12:13AM
LEVI WOMEN’S SLALOM PREVIEW
Hey, Levi is a few hours away from start time and we need to get some kind of clue as to what might happen up there north of the Arctic Circle. I am leaving for Vail, Colorado tomorrow morning to set up training camp for 2 weeks. We will be on the road until mid-afternoon on Saturday so I had better get my stuff posted. I am hoping to write this blog and the Men’s preview blog in the van tomorrow and post from a hotel on the road somewhere in Utah on Friday night. In all honesty, I cannot wait to get to Vail and start our camp. We are only weeks away from the oldest kids to start racing NorAms and FIS races, I can’t wait.
I posted the other day about the hill and its intricacies. I wrote about the course setters and the hill preparation. It seems that the only thing left to really chat about is what is going to happen on Saturday at the women’s race. I posted a brief blog about fantasy picks but I want to get into a little depth about the favorites and about our home team as well as the Canadians.
MARIA RIESCH (GER): She is the favorite in Levi, no doubt. She won last year by .08 over Lindsey and was third the previous year behind Lindsey on the top step and Maria Pietelae-Holmner in second. I am sticking with my big girl statistics at Levi. Slalom itself is easier if you are a bigger girl. It’s easier to ski through the gate if you are if you have more mass and the gate hinges down easier if you are taller. It’s just physics. But Maria is a mystery to me right now with her engagement to her manager this summer. I think distraction could take its toll early in the season this year. But she is so talented that it could mean finishing 3rd or 4th a few times until she skis her way into shape. Maria drew 5 which should be fine on that hill. It normally holds up well and the forecast is for good, cold temperatures through the weekend.
TANJA POUTIAINEN (FIN): The switch to Fischer is an interesting one for her. I know that Voelkl has issues coming up with enough money for contracts but so does Fischer, so if it was for the cash I would doubt there was much difference in the offers. But Fischer has a nice slalom program and a good group of girls on the product so sharing information is easier. And for someone from a smaller nation in the Alpine world, that can be very important. I would not sell her short at home and she has done well in Levi. She drew 14 which is just about as bad as possible for her. But the crowd and home snow will do it for her.
MARIA PIETILAE-HOLMNER (SWE): You have to put her in the favorites category on this hill. She’s been on the podium here and she’s been consistently in the mix. I also like the way she skis so I would not doubt another podium out of her. The word from her coaching staff is that she has been fast in their group and there are some very solid ski racers on their team. Maria had a nice draw in 4th which cannot hurt.
SUSANNE RIESCH (GER): Susi is pretty much a slalom specialist. She had her first big breakthrough in Levi a few years ago the last time I was there when she finished 5th from the 48 position as she lead the German team that day. She finished 4th last season. As I said, it is a great hill for her and she is a big girl. I think she is taller than Maria? Look for her to score big again to open her slalom season. She drew 7 which does not help her cause.
MARLIES SCHILD (AUT): Probably the strongest technical slalom skier in the world. She is also big and strong as well as a solid professional. She definitely has a chance and I would expect a podium, and be shocked if she was out of the top 5. Schild in the number 2 start position becomes a strong one to watch.
Katharina Duerr (GER), starting 9, is my dark horse for a big breakthrough. She went from 50 to 8 last year and I would not doubt a top 5 breakthrough for her. I also think that Austrians Michaela Kirchgasser and Nicole Hosp, who starts 12, will have a shot at the top 10. Hosp is coming back from injury so I would not expect her to have the confidence to win but she could do well. Kirchgasser has always done well at Levi and I think she can be in the top 10 again. Tina Maze is not often thought of as a slalom skier. But she is a big, strong, experienced girl with the number 1 bib. I like her chances.
Last year, Mitch Gagnon led a Canadian charge into 14, 15 and 16 from her, Anna Goodman and Brigitte Acton. Acton has retired and Anna is coming back from an ACL reconstruction. I think Anna can start her comeback here and she should be please when she qualifies and moves up a little bit on the second run. She starts 24 as expected. She has a chance at a big season ahead of her but I think the expectations need to be for a solid result the first time out. Mitch started off hot in Soelden with a 13th place finish. I would not be surprised at all to see a top 15 out of her again in Levi from the 33 start position.
LINDSEY VONN: Lins was 2nd last season and she won the year before. After the podium in Levi last year, she was a DNF in Aspen (along with a lot of others) 8th in Are and 18th in Lienz. After that it was just a string of DNFs and a failure to qualify in Maribor which is a hill she should crush. She finished her season by not starting the slalom at World Cup Finals which was probably a good choice based on her Overall World Cup win and having no chance at the slalom globe. Why risk it if you are tired or have an injury lingering since before the Olympics? I have faith in her on this hill and I see her making the slalom comeback start on Saturday. The number 11 bib is not that bad and certainly good enough to finish in the hunt.
SARAH SCHLEPER: Lasse’s Mom has qualified once in Levi, finishing 25th after hiking on the second run. But all that means is that she can get it done there. I am sure that if Sarah can be “in touch” at the end of the top flat as my friend Nicky Fellows used to say on those old broadcasts, and then she can definitely carry that heat to the finish. She goes 26.
HAILEY DUKE: Hailey scored in Levi last year, finishing 21st. She is big and strong and can get after it. I think she can get the job done in Levi, scoring for the first time since Are last season. She has the speed, she just needs to execute at speed with consistency. Hailey starts 49 which traditionally has been close to the breaking point of the injection in Levi. With a little luck, it will hold together and Hailey can punch it in.
MEGAN MCJAMES: I want to be clear; I am a big McJames fan. She is a very solid skier with excellent skills and touch on the snow. She makes a strong transition and understands how to build pressure. But she has only started 2 World Cup slaloms in her career and both have been in Maribor, SLO. I think Levi would be a good place for her to start and a good place for her to score her first world cup slalom points. I have heard from a few athletes that Megan has been skiing slalom very well and her new Fischer set up seems to be helping her slalom. Megan will have to get it done from number 40 but with injected snow and cold temps, that should not be much of an issue. I want to believe that she will score and I hope she gets it done. I will be rooting for her!
Predictions: Poutiainen, Susi Riesch, Schild, MPH and Maria Riesch are the top 5. Lindsey will have a solid day and knock down a top 10. She has been flying all over the USA before the trip to Levi. She was at the Mall of America and in NYC for the Glamour Magazine award. Then she hopped on a plane and got up to Levi and as I have said, that is not easy. It will wear on her a little and take her out of the hunt, I think. Watch for Maze in the top 10 along with Zahrobska. The last little comment I will make is that Sanni Leinonen, who skis with a lot of energy, will feel the home support and give it a good go into the top 15.