Vail’s Sarah Schleper leads in U.S. women in giant slalom, second in slalom |

Vail’s Sarah Schleper leads in U.S. women in giant slalom, second in slalom

Vail’s Sarah Schleper took a big step toward racing in her fourth Olympics with a fifth place finish in the World Cup slalom Tuesday in Lienz, Austria.

In fact, the racer’s father, Vail ski and showboard shop owner Buzz Schleper, thinks Tuesday’s results guarantees his daughter a spot in February’s Winter Games.

“That fifth place was Sarah’s ticket to a slalom start in Vancouver,” said Buzz Schleper, who was up at 2 a.m. watching Tuesday’s races on his computer. “Her GS results will get her a GS start, too. So we are super-stoked.”

The fifth place finish was Sarah Schleper’s best World Cup result since a win in 2005. After a knee injury and the birth of her son kept her off the World Cup circuit for two years, she has been working hard to return to the top of her sport, Buzz Schleper said.

“I never have seen her work harder than she worked this summer,” Buzz Schleper said. “She’s getting faster every race. She’s super-focused. She’s just attacking every run.”

The U.S. Ski Team won’t be announced until a week or two before the Olympics but right now Schleper has the most giant slalom points among American women and is second only to fellow Vail resident Lindsey Vonn in the slalom, Buzz Schleper said.

Schleper’s wild hair shot out the back of her helmet Tuesday as the team veteran — and only athlete racing in the second run born in the 1970s — raced down the slalom run. Over the last berm and into a technically difficult part of the hill, she charged the gates, gaining speed and crossing the finish line ahead of the field behind her to take the lead, eventually landing in fifth.

After laying down the third fastest second run, the successful finish is a huge confidence booster for Schleper.

“This result is more than I could hope for,” Schleper told the Associated Press. “I’m so close to the podium going into an Olympic year. I feel I’ve worked really hard this summer.”

In the ski team statement, women’s Tech Coach Trevor Wagner said Schleper’s success was a matter of putting all the pieces together over a period of time.

“Last year she had all the ingredients, but she just didn’t have the mileage with that technique. With last year underneath her belt everything is coming together now,” Wagner said. “We started working on her technique again and building on what we had before, but more modern technique. Now she’s comfortable with it and it’s all coming together.”

Austria’s Marlies Schild, the 2007 and ‘08 World Cup slalom champion, won the race after missing all of last season with a broken leg.

“This is definitely the most beautiful win of my career,” said Schild, who earned her 21st career victory. “I had of lots of hesitations over the past year, but now I am extremely happy.”

Vonn finished 18th despite bruising her left arm in Monday’s giant slalom. Wearing a brace, Vonn said she felt “a lot of pain” Tuesday but never considered skipping the race. She finished 4.42 seconds back but kept her lead in the overall standings.

“I wanted to race. That’s the way I am. I wanted to fight,” Vonn told the Associated press. “If there is any way I can ski, I will race.”

Vonn had no obvious mistakes but was well behind Schild in both runs.

“Sure it wasn’t my best. I did what I could,” Vonn said. “I am wearing a brace. It protects but it’s not really helping. My arm hurts a lot. Every time I hit a gate it was really painful in my wrist. My ribs, my side, pretty much my whole left side hurts a bit.”

Vonn had good things to say about teammate and fellow Vail resident, Schleper.

“It was so awesome to see Sarah race today,” Vonn said in the ski team’s statement. “She’s been working so hard and is building confidence every week. It’s pretty inspiring to see what she’s doing right now.”

Vonn skied the final part of last season with a protective covering on her right thumb after cutting a tendon on a broken champagne bottle in Val d’Isere in February.

“This is like the world championships Part II,” Vonn said. “Though my arm now hurts more than my thumb did last year.”

Vonn and Schleper will have a few days off before the next World Cup slalom event Sunday in Zagreb, Croatia. Vonn plans to visit a specialist for a new brace to ease the pain.

“We did what we could in the short time we had, but we can sure do a better job and maybe that will help with the pain,” Vonn said. “I’ll definitely give my hand as much rest as possible ahead of Zagreb.”

In preview interviews, Schleper has said this may be her last year skiing World CUp. But after recent results, her father says her isn’t so sure.

“They way she’s skiing she might pull the Brett Farve and keep going,” Buzz Schleper said.

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Posted on: December 29, 2009