Racing in strong winds, blowing snow and poor visibility without even a pre-race warm-up session, Canada's Alison Forsyth, Genevieve Simard and Gail Kelly each posted some of the strongest runs of the day Friday, giving Canada three top-20 results in a World Cup giant slalom.
With overnight snow forcing race officials to scrap the morning warm-up in favor of clearing the piste, the 71 competitors went in cold on the Lower Ruthies Run course, whose start and finish altitudes of 2,850 and 2,490-meters are even higher than the start of the men's notorious Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbuehel, which is at 1,655 meters.
Finland's Tanja Poutiainen won Friday's grueling contest in a two-run aggregate time of 2 minutes, 12.49 seconds, a slim 0.09 ahead of World Cup giant slalom champion Anja Paerson of Sweden. Janica Kostelic proved she was still a force to contend with following surgery to have her thyroid gland removed, crossing a solid third in 2:12.64.
Forsyth, returning from debilitating tendonitis in her hips this season, relished the tough conditions that left most racers scrambling in the opening run, crossing an impressive sixth. The 2003 GS world championship bronze medallist then dropped to 11th after a more tentative second run down, ironically in much clearer conditions, to finish in 2:14.99, 2.50 off the pace.
“The first run was toughest giant slalom of my career,” Forsyth said. “But I love that. “I didn't let the skis run the second run, I held back. I didn't intend to, but one turn threw me off and that's what ended up happening. Two runs wins a race. One and a half doesn't but it'll come. I just have to be patient but it's hard at the moment. It's disappointing that I did that in the second run because I am very fit and very strong and I could have won this race. I know that in my heart so that's what makes it kind of tough to handle but I'll pick it up again. I just have to put two runs together.”
Gail Kelly and Genevieve Simard both delivered blistering second runs, posting the third and fourth fastest times respectively. Kelly, who found the first leg difficult to negotiate with the low visibility and no warm-up, was 24th after the opening leg but vaulted to 19th after a sizzling second trip down.
It's not the first time Kelly had shone to come back from behind. At the season-opener in Soelden, Kelly posted the fastest second run, beating the greats such as Paerson and Poutiainen, to finish a strong 11th.
The two solid performances this season are the result of persistence and hard work for Kelly, who's been struggling with one health problem after another since 1998, when she hurt her left knee. In 1999, she suffered a concussion during downhill training at the junior worlds, sidelining her until 2001 because of headaches, vertigo and physical weakness.
In the summer of 2002, she struggled with back problems and went to hairdressing school in her time off.
“I'm happy that I substantiated my result from Soelden,” Kelly said. “I won't hide the fact I was nervous coming into today's race. I had a lot of butterflies in my stomach, not because it's a World Cup race but because I really wanted to back my result from Soelden, and prove I could really do it again. I think I've done that.
“I was disappointed though with my first run because the visibility was poor and for me it was really difficult not to have a warm up run. If it had been a nice smooth course in easy conditions it wouldn't have been a problem but this was tough and rough. It was a bit of a shock on the course. I didn't attack like I should have and it cost me a lot.
“It proves I'm there and I'm on the right track, I'll be getting better start numbers and so on future days like this it'll be easier to do well.”
Simard, who is increasing her focus on the GS this season, climbed from 23rd to 17th after another brilliant effort. “For sure the first run could have been better but I remembered the good things and I was very pumped for second run and I was feeling pretty confident, I listened to good tunes at the start and I really charged,” said Simard, who listens to her I-Pod to fire herself up ahead of the race.
Britt Janyk, Brigitte Acton and Anna Goodman did not qualify for the second run.
“Definitely not an easy day,” Janyk said. “The race organizers did an excellent job to prepare it the way it was. They didn't have a lot of snow here to start with. “It wasn't the conditions, it wasn't the visibility, it was a mix of a bunch of things and I know what I need to work on. I need to see the fast line and let it run.
“Now I'm going to change my focus and look ahead to tomorrow's slalom.”
The race marked only Acton's third start in a World Cup race. “This was hard, because we didn't get to have a warm-up, which is a critical aspect of racing to get your feeling and aggressiveness,” Acton said. “But then again it doesn't matter because you should still be able to go out there and be able to visualize what you want to do and go out there and do it.”
It was only Goodman's second World Cup race but fortunately conditions cleared up by the time she kicked out of the start hut with bib No. 70.
“I tried my hardest just to get down,” she said. “I felt pretty good. I was hoping to make it down solidly and it's pretty much what I did.”
1 Tanja POUTIAINEN (FIN) 1:06.52 1:05.97 2:12.49 0:00.00
2 Anja PAERSON (SWE) 1:06.84 1:05.74 2:12.58 0:00.09
3 Janica KOSTELIC (CRO) 1:05.92 1:06.72 2:12.64 0:00.15
4 Marlies SCHILD (AUT) 1:08.18 1:05.27 2:13.45 0:00.96
5 Martina ERTL (GER) 1:07.76 1:06.46 2:14.22 0:01.73
6 Nadia STYGER (SUI) 1:08.22 1:06.22 2:14.44 0:01.95
7 Marlies OESTER (SUI) 1:08.28 1:06.30 2:14.58 0:02.09
8 Renate GOETSCHL (AUT) 1:07.76 1:06.88 2:14.64 0:02.15
9 Karen PUTZER (ITA) 1:07.79 1:06.96 2:14.75 0:02.26
10 Elisabeth GOERGL (AUT) 1:07.50 1:07.43 2:14.93 0:02.44
11 Alison FORSYTH (CAN) 1:07.52 1:07.47 2:14.99 0:02.50
12 A. MEISSNITZER (AUT) 1:07.93 1:07.14 2:15.07 0:02.58
13 Tina MAZE (SLO) 1:08.38 1:06.70 2:15.08 0:02.59
14 Eveline ROHREGGER (AUT) 1:08.72 1:06.44 2:15.16 0:02.67
15 Kathrin ZETTEL (AUT) 1:08.85 1:06.36 2:15.21 0:02.72
16 Nicole GIUS (ITA) 1:08.40 1:06.82 2:15.22 0:02.73
17 Genevieve SIMARD (CAN) 1:09.31 1:05.95 2:15.26 0:02.77
18 Sonja NEF (SUI) 1:08.92 1:06.41 2:15.33 0:02.84
19 M. DORFMEISTER (AUT) 1:08.73 1:06.63 2:15.36 0:02.87
20 Gail KELLY (CAN)