Originally created 02/12/99

Meissnitzer is golden in GS



VAIL, Colo. -- Austria's Alexandra Meissnitzer struck a blow for her country. Even more satisfying was the blow she struck for her gender.

Meissnitzer overtook teammate Anita Wachter on the second run of the women's giant slalom Thursday to claim her second gold medal in the World Alpine Ski Championships.

The silver medal went to Norway's Andrine Flemmen and the bronze to Wachter.

Meissnitzer and Wachter increased Austria's medal haul in these championships to 12, compared to runner-up Norway's six.

The 12 medals aren't unexpected; the way they have been accumulated is. Austrian women, overshadowed by their male counterparts in recent seasons, have accounted for nine of those medals.

"In past years, we've always been asked, `Oh, the Austrian men's team is so strong. What's wrong with the women's team?"' Meissnitzer said. "This is the first year we've had so much competition on the women's side. That's good, because when we have training, everybody goes for it. We're pushing each other."

And, suddenly, putting pressure on the men's team to catch up.

Meissnitzer, who also won gold in the super-G last week, trailed Wachter by .21 seconds after the first run of the giant slalom. Flemmen stood third, .55 seconds off the lead.

Quick second runs by Sweden's Pernilla Wiberg and Switzerland's Corinne Rey Bellet put pressure on the leaders, but Flemmen responded with the third-fastest time on the second heat of 1 minute, 6.57 seconds to momentarily take the lead with a combined time of 2:08.84.

The steady Meissnitzer than flashed across in an almost identical 1:06.61 for a total of 2:08.54.

Wachter was slightly faster than Meissnitzer through the first intermediate clocking but lost time in the middle of the course, and her 1:07.41 left her at 2:09.13.

"I'm feeling very happy," Meissnitzer said. "On the first run, the course was very fast, and it was very close. I knew I had to give everything in the second run. I was maybe too aggressive, but I wanted to attack and risk everything."

Meissnitzer, the World Cup overall and giant slalom leader who has won three of six GS races this season and has never finished off the podium, maintained her dominance in the event. The 25-year-old Meissnitzer was second in the giant slalom in the '98 Olympics.

"After finishing fourth in the downhill and failing to medal (on Sunday), I've been kind of angry for a few days," Meissnitzer said. "That gave me motivation today."

Wiberg, ninth after the first run, had the quickest second run of 1:05.93 to climb to fourth overall in 2:09.27.

Germany's Martina Ertl was fifth in 2:09.46, followed by Rey Bellet in 2:09.52. Italy's Deborah Compagnoni, the defending world champion in giant slalom who also won the event in the 1998 Olympics, was seventh in 2:09.90.

Rounding out the top 10 were Slovenia's Spela Pretnar in 2:09.98, France's Leila Piccard in 2:10.18 and Sweden's Anna Ottosson in 2:10.30.

The top North American was Canada's Allison Forsyth, who finished 16th in 2:11.75. Kirsten Clark of Raymond, Maine, was the top American, winding up 22nd in 2:12.67.

Like Meissnitzer, Flemmen said she, too, was motivated "to show that Norwegian women can win medals when the guys do so well."

It was the first medal by a Norwegian woman compared to five for the men.

Flemmen, 24, said she told herself before the race "that if I got a medal, I would be very, very satisfied. And I am."

Her coach, Erik Skaslien, was the course-setter for the first run, and Thursday was his 34th birthday. "He said he didn't want any present, he wanted good skiing," Flemmen said.

The bronze medal marked Wachter's eighth appearance on the podium in races at Vail, one of her favorite venues.

Despite a slight slip during her first run, Wachter was timed in 1:01.72. The 31-year-old Wachter, who contemplated retirement after suffering a severe knee injury last season, is a two-time winner in giant slalom this season on the World Cup circuit.

"This medal is very important to me because after my injury, nobody thought I would come back," Wachter said.

Meissnitzer had a first-run clocking of 1:01.93, and Flemmen stood third in 1:02.27.