Women's Slalom: Vail, Colorado
A skiing World Champion from the land Down Under? You betcha, mate. Australian Zali Steggall absolutely ripped the second run of the women's slalom Saturday to claim the gold and push the traditional alpine powerhouses aside.
The 24-year-old from Sydney became the first Australian to win a World Cup race in Park City in November 1997. Last year she became the first Australian to win an Olympic skiing medal with the bronze in slalom.
Under sunny skies and in perfect skiing conditions in Vail, she nailed the final steeps on Pepi's Face of Vail's International run to become the first Aussie to win a World Championship gold medal with a winning two-run time of 1 minute, 33.97 seconds.
"I was really nervous for the first run. I've been training here for two weeks and it's a long to wait for one race. That's all I have," said Steggall, whose family moved to France for 10 years, moving there when she was 4.
It was all Steggall in the final run. After posting the sixth-fastest run in a tight first run that saw 20 skiers finish within one second of each other, Steggall was fastest in the second run.
"I really lit the run down the steep pitch," said Steggall. "It's fantastic to win a medal for Australia. There are a lot of Australians cheering me on. I'm so happy."
It was a heartbreaking Saturday for American favorite Kristina Koznick. She was the top American hope coming into these Worlds as the only US skier with a World Cup victory. Starting in the number one position, Koznick had the air of invincibility around her. Bashing through the gates with confidence, she simply misread a flush and straddled the gate. As quickly as that, her World Championships were over.
"I'm disappointed. I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. I'm sorry I disappointed the fans who turned out to watch me today," said Koznick.
Coming out number two in the second run was Norway's Trine Bakke. With the grandstands as quiet as a morgue after Koznick's disappointment, Bakke ripped the bottom half of the course, with the gates slapping down in a heavy "whack, whack, whack."
"I had a great first run. I knew if I could ski cleanly in the second run I would have a medal. I made one mistake that cost me the gold," said Bakke, who took the bronze medal, 1.03 seconds off the winning pace.
"I lost a lot on the steep section, but I am very happy for the bronze medal," said Bakke, after winning Norway's eighth medal during the two-week Worlds.
Sweden's Pernilla Wiberg proved she's a big-time racer yet again. With favorites Deborah Compagnoni of Italy and Anita Wachter of Austria struggling in their second runs to 8th and 9th, respectively, Wiberg nailed her second run to take her second medal of the Vail Worlds.
A versatile all-around skier, she was 7th fastest in the first run but ripped the upper section of her second run. She slipped once on the final steeps on Pepi's Face and crossed the line in the lead until Steggall came down to edge her out by .80 seconds.
"That's my tactic to ski more conservatively in the first run and then give it all I've got in the second," said Wiberg, gold medalist in the combined. "I was really impressed with how Zali skied on the steep section. It was a great victory for her."
A talented Slovenian squad dominated the first run, placing all four skiers in the top-15, with Alenka Dovzan and Spela Pretnar finishing 2nd and 3rd in the first run. They struggled in the second run. Pretnar skied out and Dovzan ended up in 12th after a disappointing second run.
There was some good news for the Americans in a day when most things went bad. Koznick and Lalive didn't finish the first run, both skiing off the course. Tasha Nelson, 41st after the first run, didn't start the second. But Aspen's Alex Shaffer skied superbly in her second run to finish 15th for her best career finish in a major race.
This wraps up the women's competition of the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships. The men will wrap up these Championships, only the third to be held in the United States, with a slalom race tomorrow.
American Bode Miller is ready to rip Sunday's slalom, representing the USA's last chance to earn a medal. The 21-year-old from Franconia, NH, was the top American in the giant slalom Friday in 18th place at 3.82 seconds back. After a disappointing first run in the GS, he was eighth-fastest in the second run. Miller skis with wild abandon and is always exciting to watch. The national GS champion, Miller says he skis a better slalom.
"I'm better in the slalom. I can't wait for the race because slalom is fun on any hill," said Miller, who popped for a fourth-place run in Wengen, Switzerland, for his best career World Cup result just a few weeks before the Worlds.
Vail's Sacha Gros will be running in front of the home crowd while Crested Butte's Casey Puckett, his body banged and bruised from a high-speed spill in last week's downhill, is going to skip it.
Andrew Hood, Mountain Zone Correspondent
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