Originally created 11/29/97

Gerg wins parallel race after Ertl misses gate



MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN, Calif. -- Two skiers are supposed to finish side-by-side in the new World Cup parallel event.

But in the bright sunshine on Mammoth Mountain Friday, Hilde Gerg won it all alone.

The competition rapidly descended from high drama to no drama when Gerg's fellow German Martina Ertl missed a gate in their final match race.

Ertl, the Olympic silver medalist in the giant slalom at Lillehammer in 1994, was forced out when she hit some soft snow that slowed her down to the point where she couldn't make the necessary turn about 50 yards from the finish.

The parallel race, which has returned to World Cup on an experimental basis for the first time since it was tried once in 1975, pits racers side-by-side in the skiing equivalent of match play.

Each pairing races twice, with the skiers switching sides for the second race. The skier with the overall fastest time advances.

The first race between the Gerg, 22, the defending overall World Cup super-G champion, and the 24-year-old Ertl was the closest of the day, with Ertl winning by just .15 thousandths of a second.

But in the final race, Gerg edged ahead, and finished all alone, looking back at the vacant trail of her competitor, then raising her fist in triumph as she crossed the finish line.

Despite the disappointing final race, Ertl moved into the lead in the overall World Cup standings with 272 points.

The parallel race, highly unpopular with most of the skiers, is worth 100 World Cup points to the winner. But winning didn't change Gerg's opinion of the new event, which combines giant slalom and slalom gates.

"I think parallel slalom will be OK, but not with giant slalom and slalom gates combined," Gerg said. "But I think four disciplines already on the World Cup is enough."

Gerg had been a top finisher at Mammoth Mountain twice before, placing second in the super-G last year and third in 1994.

"I've been three times on the podium here, so this is a very nice place for me," she said.

The powerful German women's team finished 1-2-4, with Katja Seizinger taking fourth.

Alexandra Meissnitzer of Austria, who finished third, defeated Deborah Compagnoni of Italy and Leila Piccard of France. Compagnoni was the World Cup standings leader entering the race. Piccard had won the first parallel race Oct. 24 at Tignes, France.

"At the start of the season, I didn't like it, but now we've had two parallel races and I've been third twice, so I think I'm starting to like it," Meissnitzer said. "It was a great day for me. I didn't think I could be on the podium again. It took a lot of energy."

The race, the second and final parallel event of the World Cup season, featured 26 women who qualified because of their positions on the World Cup start list, determined by a complicated formula that encompasses finishes from races last year and this year. No American qualified for the competition.

The short course, only 1,312 feet long with an elevation drop of 426 feet, switches from giant slalom gates, with wide, sweeping turns, to the tight turns of a slalom layout, then back again to the giant slalom.

The top finishers provided a preview of Saturday's super-G race, in which Gerg, Ertl and Seizinger are considered favorites.

Gerg, Ertl and Seizinger each raced 10 times Friday.

"You're a little tired, but all the girls racing at the end had the same problem," Gerg said.

The super-G race nearly was canceled because of a blizzard that dropped 4 feet of snow on the upper reaches of the course near the 11,000-foot level of Mammoth Mountain Tuesday night and Wednesday.

Crews worked throughout the night to get the course in shape and, on Friday morning, a World Cup jury gave the go-ahead for the Saturday race on a slightly shortened course.

"Normally we would want to start on the top of the mountain, but there's too much snow," Gerg said, "so we had to move the start down. Tomorrow will be a very close race because of starting on the flats."