Poutiainen edges Zettel to open ski season

It was an exciting start to the women's alpine season in Soelden, Austria, Saturday, with Tanja Poutiainen of Finland capturing the giant slalom by just 1/100th of a second.

Takes women's giant slalom in 2-run time of 2 minutes, 24.96 seconds

It was an exciting start to the women's alpine season Saturday as Tanja Poutiainen of Finland earned a narrow victory in giant slalom at Soelden, Austria.

Poutiainen was trailing Kathrin Zettel of Austria at the final checkpoint but made up time on the flatter bottom section, clocking a two-run combined time of 2 minutes, 24.96 seconds to prevail by 1/100th of a second for her ninth career victory.

"It's a good way to start and know that everything is working and you've done the right training," Poutiainen said.

No Canadians qualified for the second run but Marie-Michele Gagnon of Etchemin, Que., came close. Gagnon finished in 1:16.41 to place 33rd, just 0.37 seconds off the qualifying time.

Hosp out for season

Former overall winner Nicole Hosp of Austria crashed in Saturday's event and was airlifted to an Innsbruck hospital, where she had season-ending ligament surgery on her right knee.

She lost control on the upper section of the course and slid downhill headfirst for more than 50 metres before coming to a stop.

In January, the 2006-07 World Cup winner broke the upper part of her shinbone and tore ligaments in her left knee in a crash in Zagreb, Croatia.

The Rettenbach is one of the steepest courses on the women's circuit. It begins with a sharp pitch, then flattens out down the glacier to the finish arena where 11,000 fans awaited the skiers.

"It is very disappointing," said Gagnon. "I was starting 30th and I really thought I was in good position to qualify for the second run, so I am very disappointed.

"This is a day to forget for the Canadian team because none of the girls qualified and we were all expecting more from our performances."

Opening-run leader Denise Karbon finished third on the Rettenbach glacier, 0.32 back, and Manuela Moelgg, who stood second after the morning leg, fell in her second trip down.

Poutiainen won her second World Cup giant slalom title last season and had finished second twice in Soelden, including last year, to go with two other top-five results. Her main goal this season is winning a gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics in February for her first major championship title.

Poutiainen took silver behind American Julia Mancuso in giant slalom at the 2006 Turin Games and has won two silvers and two bronzes at world championships.

"I like the sport and I like to train and I also have some things I still want to win, like a gold medal," Poutiainen said, looking ahead to the Vancouver Olympics in February.

Two-time defending overall World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn placed ninth. Teammate Mancuso fell shortly into her second run after placing 21st in the opening leg.

The start of each run was pushed back 30 minutes so organizers could clear four inches of freshly fallen snow off the course.

Underneath the snow, conditions were challenging.

"I think everyone had a difficult go at it this morning," Vonn said. "It was pretty rough conditions. It was going from grippy ice to sheer ice to big ice chunks. It was hard to get the feeling for the snow and the terrain."

Giant slalom is the only discipline Vonn has not won in, and this marked her first race since switching ski brands from Rossignol to Head in the off-season. The Minnesota native was skiing well on the top section but then lost more than half a second when she emerged from shadows covering the course's midsection in her second descent.

"I don't think any of the top girls skied their best," Poutiainen said. "It was very tough with the shadows. You couldn't really see the bumps."

A men's giant slalom is scheduled for Sunday on the Rettenbach.

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