Paerson, Vonn go in 5th and final Olympic race

BY foxsports • February 25, 2010

Bruised and weary, Anja Paerson and Lindsey Vonn will summon a final effort in Friday's slalom to complete their five-event Olympics program.

Defending champion Paerson tries for a record seventh career medal in women's Olympic Alpine racing still hobbling after her horrific crash in last week's downhill won by Vonn.

The 25-year-old American starts despite breaking her right pinkie crashing out in the first run of the giant slalom on Wednesday.

Fresh challengers await them. Austria's Marlies Schild and Susanne Riesch of the surging German squad arrive at the Vancouver Games focused on their specialty event.

There is also Susanne's elder sister, Maria, who has super-combined gold and is the slalom world champion.

Paerson says she's ready to defend her slalom title from the 2006 Turin Games.

``Wouldn't it be awesome if I won it again?'' she said after placing 22nd in the delayed finish of the giant slalom Thursday. ``No one believes it, so I'm going to prove everybody wrong.''

The 28-year-old Paerson, who came to Canada with sore knees, said her left leg still feels numb from landing badly after she flew high and far off the final jump in the downhill. Yet the Swedish great defied the pain 24 hours later to get a super-combined bronze and tie former rival Janica Kostelic of Croatia as the most decorated women in Alpine history with six career medals.

``I'm feeling pretty tired. But sometimes the last race gives you more energy,'' Paerson said.

Vonn could have sat out the slalom with her sore right shin and cracked right pinkie, and get valuable rest before resuming defense of her World Cup overall title in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, next week.

But Vonn's husband, Thomas, said the pain was ``manageable'' in two training runs Thursday, and the U.S. Ski team confirmed that she will join Sarah Schleper, Hailey Duke and Megan McJames in the lineup.

With no U.S. skier on the GS podium Thursday, the men and women's combined medal tally is now eight from eight events.

Germany has just two medals, but they're both gold: 20-year-old Viktoria Rebensburg in the giant slalom and Maria Riesch in the super-combined.

``We are totally relaxed for the slalom,'' said Germany's Alpine director, Wolfgang Maier. ``We have now two medals and this is more than anybody can expect for us.''

Many expect another German medal Friday.

Maria Riesch leads the season-long World Cup slalom standings, while Susanne - three years younger at 22 - has had two top-3 finishes.

``Maria is the leader in the team. She brings the success over years and she develops the racers forward,'' Maier said.

Austria will field two winners of World Cup slaloms this season, in Schild and Kathrin Zettel.

Schild, who took bronze behind Paerson in Turin, won both times on home snow at Lienz and Flachau.

Zettel got her victory at Maribor, Slovenia, and aims to rebound after walking away sadly from her fifth place in the GS. She was fourth in super-combined.

Sandrine Aubert also has two wins this season - at Are, Sweden, and Zagreb, Croatia - and a medal for her would be an Alpine first for France, if not exactly the official French team.

The 28-year-old Aubert trains independently after falling out with national team coaches.

Sarka Zahrobska of the Czech Republic could also help keep France, Canada and Italy out of the medals for a ninth time.

After four races on the Franz's Run slope, the women will switch to the adjoining men's Dave Murray course for their slalom. And they won't ski there before it counts.

The Whistler weather has altered schedules and snow conditions so much that the surface needs to be protected for the women's race and the men's on Saturday. Each will have about 100 starters.

``They don't let us in for free-skiing so it will be unusual for me,'' said world championship bronze medalist Tanja Poutiainen. ``But I understand that conditions are not good and the snow is not good.''

The 29-year-old Finn fine-tuned her Olympic preparations in the heat of Palm Springs, Calif., last week as Paerson, Vonn and others toiled in the rain, fog, sleet, snow and occasional sunshine.

``It's been a tough two weeks for us,'' Paerson said. ``But it's the Olympics and you have to charge it.''

Paerson has not committed to aiming for the 2014 Sochi Games.

If Friday is her Olympics farewell, she would like to go out in style, wearing race-day earrings designed by her mother Madeleine in the shape of the Olympic rings.

``Last Olympics I got a necklace. This year I got the earrings,'' she said. ``I feel like I can wear them in gold because I have won gold medals. Hopefully I can get one.''