Schladming: Palander edges Sasaki in slalom; Miller, Ligety DQ'd


Schladming: Palander edges Sasaki in slalom; Miller, Ligety DQ’dSCHLADMING, Austria – Kalle Palander of Finland won the 10th annual Schladming night slalom on a Tuesday in front of 48,000 freezing-cold fans, many of whom were drinking gluwein, a hot spiced wine that already tastes gastric the first time it passes the lips.

Palander won in 1 minute, 42.34 seconds, with Akira Sasaki of Japan 0.79 seconds behind and Benni Raich of Austria another two-hundredths behind that.

Ted Ligety and Bode Miller straddled gates on the first run. Tom Rothrock, Roger Brown and Erik Schlopy also failed to finish. Jimmy Cochran and Chip Knight sat in 20th and 30th after the first run. Knight finished 19th and Cochran 28th.

It was Knight’s third top-20 slalom result of the season, clinching him a spot on the U.S. Ski Team’s Olympic slalom squad. ‘I was pretty happy with my second run’ said Knight. ‘I’ll wait to see what they say, but I feel pretty good about it.’

Knight’s serviceman Dave Coombs put edge on Knight’s skis between runs, and his coach Mike Morin set the second run course.

It was brutally cold at Schladming (8 degrees Fahrenheit) with snow squeaking under people’s boot soles and brittle gates breaking all over the place. Fans packed into the finish-line stadium waving Austrian flags for Benni Raich, who now has a 248-point lead over Michael Walchhofer in the overall standings (and 264 over Bode Miller).

Giorgio Rocca was second after the first run, and was solid all the way down the long pitch before catching a tip in a flush and skiing out. He spun around backward through the finish before breaking his pole over his leg in frustration – a rare show of emotion for the stoic ‘Policeman of Livigno.’

In the 10 years the Schladming night race has been on the World Cup calendar, it has become one of the most popular stops on the men’s tour, with crowds in excess of 45,000 people and the atmosphere of a rock concert.

In those 10 years, only six men have won on the Planai course: Alberto Tomba of Italy (1997 and 1998), Benni Raich of Austria (1999, 2001 and 2004), Mario Matt of Austria (2000), Bode Miller of the United States (2002), Kalle Palander of Finland (2003 and 2006) and Manfred Pranger of Austria (2005).

The Schladming race may be the last in a streak of 136 in which Miller has been present at the start. On Sunday he indicated that he may skip the weekend’s races at Garmisch, Germany.

Ligety, the 2004 Sprint/Ski Racing Junior of the Year, came into the race wearing bib No. 1 and had the fastest first run by more than half a second, but video showed that he had straddled a gate midway down the steep pitch and was disqualified.

Ligety said the snow was unpredictable, slick in spots but grippy in others. Ranked second in the World Cup standings behind Rocca, Ligety was the youngest athlete in the first 20 skiers at the start.

‘I wasn’t sure if I straddled or if I hit it with the bottom of my boot’ he said. ‘I felt it get stuck a little bit, so I wasn’t entirely sure, so I just kind of kept going and figured I’d take the fine.’

Skiers who continue after a DNF are handed a routine 999 Swiss franc fine from the FIS, but often they keep going just in case (or for training, or for the thrill of skiing into a crowd of more than 48,000 people).

Ligety dropped to third in the World Cup slalom rankings, with 325 points. Rocca leads with 500 points, and Palander has 366 to Ligety’s 325. Raich is fourth with 260 points.

J.P. Vidal, who won Sunday’s slalom at Kitzbuehel, didn’t quite move into the top seven of the World Cup Start List (as he’d hoped). His win put him into a tie for seventh on the list, so the draw (normally of the top seven) consisted of eight men; Vidal drew eighth.

Rainfried Herbst, the young Austrian who was dumped from the team a few years back but fought his way back and finished third at Kitzbuehel on Sunday, misplanted his pole as he pushed out of the start gate and blew out of the race.

After this race, pure slalom specialists such as Alois Vogl of Germany, Andre Myhrer of Sweden and Vidal of France will have an entire month to kill before the Olympic slalom race, which takes place on the night of Feb. 25 – the day before the Games’ Closing Ceremony.

The American men’s tech specialists – such as Tom Rothrock and Knight – are headed home for some rest and relaxation, and to train in Park City prior to the Olympics. Ligety will have some time off in Europe before rejoining the speed team at Chamonix, France. He may forerun some women’s Europa Cup races.

This was the seventh of 10 slaloms on the men’s calendar this season. Rocca won the first five and Vidal won the sixth. Skiracing.com had a reporter on the scene for each of the races, which were held at Beaver Creek, Colorado (Dec. 4), Madonna di Campiglio, Italy (Dec. 12), Kranjska Gora, Slovenia (Dec. 22), Adelboden, Switzerland (Jan. 8) Wengen, Switzerland (Jan. 15.), and Kitzbuehel, Austria (Jan. 22). The remaining slalom races are at Shigakogen, Japan (two races on March 10 and 11) and Are, Sweden (at Finals, March 19).

The next World Cup races for the men are a downhill and super G this weekend at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Last year, the winners of those races were Christoph Gruber of Austria (super G) and Michael Walchhofer of Austria (two downhills).

Third time is the charm
But the last two seasons have seen the race marred by controversy. In 2004, Bode Miller lost a commanding first-run advantage after waiting nearly 20 minutes in the start for organizers to evacuate an injured Ivica Kostelic of Croatia (snow fell on the upper part of the Schladming track, making it difficult for Miller to get grip).

Then, last season, timing malfunctions by ALGE led to widespread confusion and outrage as incorrect times were posted on the finish-line scoreboard. Everything from snowballs to media bias were blamed. The Italian team protested to the FIS, who ultimately decided to let the result stand.

That night, Giorgio Rocca of Italy said the race results were a product of the mafia, but this year he is in a much better mood. ‘Please can you check my time with your chrono’ joked Rocca in an interview with Italian journalists this week.

Manufacturer’s standings update…
Going into Tuesday night’s race, Atomic was leading the World Cup in a tally recorded by Austrian daily newspaper Die Presse. Atomic led with 6,870 World Cup points to Salomon’s 3,510. The next-best ski brands were Volkl (1,805), Rossignol (1,780) and Dynastar (1,220).

On the men’s tour, Atomic was marching steadily toward monopoly, with 4,640 points to runner-up Salomon’s 970 (Dynastar had 945 and Fischer had 825)

But on the women’s World Cup, Salomon was heading off the Altenmarkt empire, with 2,540 points against At
omic’s 2,230. (Volkl had 1,420 points on the women’s tour, and Rossignol 1,155).

Palander pleased, crusty
Kalle Palander hadn’t won a World Cup race since Finals in 2004, when he won the slalom and was insulted as the organizers played the Australian national anthem while he was on the podium. ‘Sestriere at the Finals that was my 10th win’ he said. ‘I said to Finnish media that it could be my last victory.’

Palander felt close all year, but could quite make it. He started to give up hope. ‘I knew it was possible, but it started to feel already like its not going to happen again’ he said.

He was happy that it finally came in Schladming, one of the most popular stops on the tour. ‘Schladming is the best race in the World Cup, I would say’ said Palander. ‘It’s unbelievable. There’s so many people.’

When told that some of the other racers had complained that the slope was at the limit of how icy a World Cup should be, Palander scoffed: ‘Maybe for the young guys, they can say that, because they are not skiing in the old days on the long skis – 190s and these – like when Tomba was skiing and I came to the World Cup’ said Palander, who is 28.

‘Maybe I’m old.’

Men’s slalom (night)
Schladming, Austria
Jan. 24, 2006

1. Kalle Palander, FIN 1:42.34
2. Akira Sasaki, JPN 1:43.13
3. Benjamin Raich, AUT 1:43.15
4. Andre Myhrer, SWE 1:43.39
5. Stephane Tissot, FRA 1:43.75
6. Kentaro Minagawa, JPN 1:43.81
7. Patrick Thaler, ITA 1:43.84
8. Martin Hansson, SWE 1:44.22
9. Manfred Pranger, AUT 1:44.40
10. Hannes Paul Schmid, ITA 1:44.46
11. Rainer Schoenfelder, AUT 1:44.58
12. Hans-Petter Buraas, NOR 1:44.62
13. Michael Janyk, CAN 1:44.63
14. Thomas Grandi, CAN 1:44.83
15. Pierrick Bourgeat, FRA 1:44.84
16. Andreas Omminger, AUT 1:45.11
17. Daniel Albrecht, SUI 1:45.13
18. Mario Matt, AUT 1:45.31
19. Chip Knight, USA 1:45.51
20. Marc Berthod, SUI 1:45.58
21. Cristian Deville, ITA 1:45.67
22. Edoardo Zardini, ITA 1:45.78
22. Alexander Koll, AUT 1:45.78
24. Manfred Moelgg, ITA 1:45.89
25. Lars Myhre, NOR 1:45.90
26. Johan Brolenius, SWE 1:46.31
27. Jean-Baptiste Grange, FRA 1:46.83
28. James Cochran, USA 1:47.07
Other North Americans:
DNF 1st: Bode Miller, Tom Rothrock, Roger Brown, Erik Schlopy, USA; Patrick Biggs, Jean-Philippe Roy, Paul Stutz, CAN.
DNQ 2nd: Ryan Semple, CAN.
DSQ 1st: Ted Ligety, USA.

THE SCOOP

By Hank McKee

Equipment
Men’s slalom (n) Schladming, Jan. 24, 2006

Skier, skis/boots/bindings
1. Palander, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
2. Sasaki, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
3. Raich, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
4. Myhrer, Nordica/Nordica
5. Tissot, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
6. Minagawa, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
7. Thaler, Fischer/Lange/Fischer
8. Hansson, Dynastar/Lange/Look
9. Pranger, Volkl/Lange/Marker
10. Schmid, Nordica/Nordica/Marker

Men’s slalom, Schladming, Austria, Jan. 24, 2006. … (The Night Race). … It is the 26th event of the men’s 34 race, four combined World Cup schedule. … It is the seventh of 10 scheduled slaloms. … It is the 11th slalom at Schladming. … It is the final men’s slalom before the Olympic Games.

It is the 11th career podium for Kalle Palander. … The ninth in slalom. … It is the second time he has won the Schladming slalom, the first Jan. 26, 2003. … It is his first win of the season, but his fifth podium (3 in SL, 2 in GS). … Nine of his 11 completed races this season have been top-seven results. … He is the all-time leading Finnish winner. … The only other Finnish alpine World Cup winner is Tanja Poutiainen (five).

It is the second career podium for Akira Sasaki, the other a second in slalom at Wengen Jan. 19, 2003. … His only other top 10 this season is fourth in SL at Beaver Creek Dec. 4. … No Japanese has ever won a World Cup (alpine) race. … Sasaki and Tetsuya Okabe have finished second, Kiminobu Kimura, Emi Kawabata and Okabe have third-place finishes to their credit. … It is the fifth time this season the Japanese have had two scorers (Kentaro Minagawa was sixth) in the same race.

It is the 54th career podium for Benjamin Raich. … His 27th in slalom. … It is his ninth podium of the season. … His fourth in slalom. … He does not have a slalom win this season. … It is his worst finish at Schladming in six races, having won Jan. 7, 1999, Jan. 23, 2001, and Jan. 27, 2004; and having been second twice Jan. 28, 2003. and Jan. 25, 2005.

Manfred Pranger (finished ninth) won the event last season.

It is the fifth-best career result for Michael Janyk. … His best a sixth in slalom Feb. 27, 2005, at Kranjska Gora, his second-best a ninth at Schladming last season. … He has also been 10th (Adelboden Jan 8) and 12th (Madonna Dec. 12) previously this season. … It is the 59th time Thomas Grandi has recorded a top-15 result. … The eighth time this season. … He has tallied second (Kransjka Gora Dec. 22), fourth (Madonna Dec. 12) and eighth (Kitzbuehel Jan. 22) in slalom previously this season. … It is the 18th career top-20 result for Chip Knight dating back to 1997. … It is his fourth scoring result of the season, third in slalom. … His best of the season a 17th at Adelboden Jan. 8. …It is the fifth scoring result of James Cochran’s career. … His third of the season, and second in slalom.

Benjamin Raich strengthens his lead in the World Cup overall standing to 952-704 over Michael Walchhofer (did not race). … Daron Rahlves (did not race) is third at 689 and Bode Miller (first-run DNF) is fourth at 688. … Giorgio Rocca (send-run DSQ) leads the slalom standings 500-366 over Palander. … Ligety (first-run DSQ) is third at 325. Winning margin is .79 of a second. … Top three are within the same second. … Top eight within two seconds.

Schladming: Palander edges Sasaki; Miller, Ligety DQ'dBODE MILLER STREAK TO END AT 136 AFTER SCHLADMING RACE

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