Maria Riesch wins gold in Olympic slalom
Maria Riesch of Germany won the slalom title for her second gold medal of the Winter Olympics on Friday, as Lindsey Vonn skied out chasing her second victory.
Riesch led after the first leg and had a combined two-run time of 1 minute, 42.89 seconds through the snow and fog on Friday.
Marlies Schild of Austria was 0.43 second back to take silver, adding to her bronze in the same event at the 2006 Turin Games.
Sarka Zahrobska of the Czech Republic trailed by 1.01 to get bronze.
Riesch stood at the start with 0.65 in hand on Schild, who was third-fastest in the first run, but knowing her Austrian rival had set a tough target.
``I heard the Austrian coaches celebrating behind me, so I knew I really needed to attack. Otherwise you get silver,'' Riesch said. ``It worked perfectly.''
Germany's Alpine women have enjoyed a stellar Olympics, winning three of the five women's races.
Riesch also took the super-combined and returned to the top step of the podium 24 hours after 20-year-old teammate Viktoria Rebensburg got gold in the giant slalom.
Downhill champion Vonn straddled a gate early in her first run and did not finish for the third time in five races.
Vonn was waiting to greet her best friend Riesch at the finish and told her: ``Awesome, I'm so proud of you.''
Riesch was fast in the top half of her second run but lost some speed in the flats in the middle.
She appeared tired as she approached a closing straight series of gates with the finish-area crowd roaring her on.
Riesch reached forward for the line and, seeing her victory confirmed, crouched forward with both fists clenched in delight. She punched the air then fell to the snow in delight.
Minutes before her run, Riesch's younger sister, Susanne, who was fourth in the morning, skied out when poised to take the lead. The 22-year-old Riesch straddled a gate and lay back flat in the snow in dismay. Siblings haven't medaled in the same Alpine event since American twins Phil and Steve Mahre went 1-2 in slalom at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics.
``Fortunately, I didn't get (that news) at the start. That would have not been good for me, for sure,'' Maria Riesch said.
Riesch is competing at her first Olympics at age 25 after being sidelined by a season-ending injury four years ago.
She was a heavy prerace favorite, as the 2009 world champion in slalom - when she left Zahrobska with silver - and current leader in the season-long World Cup discipline standings.
It's the fourth straight Winter Games that one woman has taken gold in at least two of the five Alpine events.
Austria's Michaela Dorfmeister won the downhill and super-G at Turin in 2006; Janica Kostelic of Croatia got three - slalom, giant slalom and combined - at Salt Lake City in 2002; and Germany's Katja Seizinger was downhill and combined champion at Nagano in 1998.
Schild got a fourth medal for the Austrian women's Alpine team at Whistler. Austria's men have failed to get a medal in their four events so far.
Schild's boyfriend, Benjamin Raich, is a strong candidate to end that shutout for the ``Wunderteam'' in the closing slalom Saturday.
Zahrobska, who won slalom gold at the 2007 worlds, is the first skier from the Czech Republic to win an Olympic Alpine medal since it began competing as an independent nation 16 years ago. Olga Charvatova won bronze for the former Czechoslovakia in women's downhill at the 1984 Sarajevo Games.
Maria Pietilae-Holmner of Sweden was fourth, 0.32 out of the medals, Sandrine Aubert of France was fifth, and Finland's Tanja Poutiainen sixth.
Defending champion Anja Paerson was 20th after the first run and failed to finish her second trip down in what she said was ``probably'' her last Olympics race.
The 28-year-old Swede was chasing a record seventh career Olympic medal in women's Alpine racing. Her bronze in super-combined last week tied her former rival, Croatian great Janica Kostelic, with six.
Paerson overshot a turn and could not make a right-hand gate, went off-course and then skied down waving to fans. She performed a farewell bow in the finish area.
In the morning run, Vonn could not correct her line after her right, outside ski slid away coming out of a left-hand turn.
``I went out there fighting and it just wasn't my day,'' said Vonn, who will leave the Vancouver Games with a gold medal from her signature downhill event and a bronze in the super-G. ``I'm totally satisfied with everything I have done here. I have the gold medal I came here for.''
Sarah Schleper of Vail, Colo., was the highest U.S. finisher, in 16th, trailing Riesch by 2.99.
Schleper was ninth in the morning and was fast in her second run, until needing an agile recovery just to finish. She swung both ski poles in the air in frustration upon crossing the line.
On a day of difficult weather conditions, racers went through a steady fall of wet snow in the morning.
Course workers scraped the slushy surface between runs to create a more solid and consistent racing track that would better hold the women's sharp-edged skis.
With fog gathering during the second run, television pictures showed racers outlined on a hazy, smoky background along the top half of the course.