Swede steals the show
Paerson wins slalom at world championships
Updated: Wednesday February 07, 2001 6:59 PM
ST. ANTON, Austria (AP) -- Swedish teen-ager Anja Paerson won the gold medal in the women's slalom at the World Championship Wednesday, a race marred by irregular conditions that overwhelmed stars like World Cup slalom leader Janica Kostelic.
The 19-year-old Paerson, with rooster-tails of wet snow spraying behind her, rushed down the crumbling Sonnenwiese course in a two-run combined time of one minute, 32.95 seconds, to collect the first major international title of her career.
"I knew I had nothing to lose," said Paerson, a four-time junior world champion. "The worse the course, the better I skied. I had a really tough time, I can't tell if the race should have been run or not. I am happy now, but maybe the others are not so happy.
"I knew I had a chance and I had to take it. I told myself do it today or you're going to hate yourself for the rest of your life."
France's Christelle Saioni was runner-up in 1:33.56, ahead of unheralded Hedda Berntsen of Norway, who took bronze with 1:33.99.
"I raced very aggressively in the first run," Saioni said. "I had a good number (bib No. 3). My coach told me not to be so aggressive in the second run and I followed his advice."
"I don't if the race was regular, for me it was a very nice race because of my second place. It was very difficult and I had to risk a lot."
Berntsen, in her first year on the circuit, said she never expected a medal and took many risks. "I made a big mistake in the second run and then I skied as fast as I could."
Kostelic, who has swept all seven slalom World Cup victories this season and had appeared unbeatable ahead of the worlds, crossed a disappointing fifth in 1:34.40, behind Austria's Sabine Egger with 1:34.13.
"With the great racers Katja Seizinger, Deborah Compagnoni and Pernilla Wiberg, this race would never have been held," said a disgusted Kostelic.
The collapsing course visibly skewed the results of the race, with the later skiers struggling on the disintegrating course.
After the opening leg, 1.44 seconds separated the top five skiers, and a massive 2.09 separated the top-10. In the second-seeded group, only 8-of-15 racers were able to complete the course.
So bad were the conditions, the women had gathered ahead of the second run, debating whether to boycott the race. At the World Cup finals in Sierra Nevada in 1999, complaining that soft snow and icy conditions were too dangerous, the women had threatened to go on strike, prompting organizers called off the slalom race.
"The conditions weren't ideal today," said American Kristina Koznick. "And before the second run a lot of the girls were talking about 'maybe we should just protest, and not go,' but it's a world championship and the girls were leaving saying 'yeah, right.'
"It's too bad it was unfair."
Gian Franco Kasper, president of the International Ski Federation, heavily criticized the decision to hold the race despite the poor conditions.
"The course was not worthy of the world championships," Kasper said. "It simply wasn't correct towards the athletes.
"It was disrespectful towards the athletes, but no team made an intervention against the race. It's their job to do something."
Wolfgang Maier, the German women's team coach, was also furious.
"It's completely irregular," he said, though acknowledged his team had decided not to launch a protest between the two runs.
Kurt Hoch, race director of the women's World Cup, agreed and said he had criticized the state of the course even before the start. He accused organizers of spending all their time fixing the downhill course and not the slalom after heavy snowfalls followed by warm spring-like weather had damaged the championship pistes.
Organizers angrily rejected the criticism and blamed FIS.
"We prepared the course well. But then FIS took over," said an indignant Peter Schroecksnadel, president of the organizing committee. "In the FIS the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing."
Organizers said FIS told them not to add hardening chemicals because the course was so steep.
Second in the World Cup slalom standings after one second and two third places, Koznick placed eighth. The American was fourth after the opening run but was unable to master the slushy conditions in the second leg.
Teammate Sarah Schleper, who also has a second place this season, skidded out in the opening leg, as did defending champion Zali Steggall of Australia.