ASPEN, Colo. (AP) — At 31 and with knees that feel much older, Nicole Hosp figured her days of winning slalom races were long behind her. Especially with this new wave of youngsters on the slopes, led by the likes of American Mikaela Shiffrin.
For one afternoon, though, on a hill that’s always treated Austrian skiers well, Hosp found speed she hasn’t uncovered in years. She turned in a powerful final run Sunday for her first World Cup victory since 2008, while Shiffrin struggled to a fifth-place finish.
Hosp was nearly a second back after the first run, but glided through the deteriorating course in a time of 1 minute, 44.90 seconds. She held off Frida Hansdotter of Sweden by 0.19 seconds. Kathrin Zettel of Austria was third for her 10th podium finish at Aspen.
“This victory feels like my first victory,” said Hosp, who suffered a serious knee injury a few years ago and retired the giant slalom from her repertoire. “I’m happy that I’m back.”
It was quite a weekend for the first country of ski racing. Austrians Eva-Maria Brem and Zettel went 1-2 in the giant slalom on Saturday. Then, Hosp rose to the occasion on a bumpy and rugged course. So did Zettel — again, which really is no surprise since she always performs well at Aspen. She wishes every race could be held at this venue because it has “perfect conditions” and is “lovely for me.”
Not so much for Shiffrin, who grew up in nearby Vail.
PHOTO GALLERY: Vail’s Mikaela Shiffrin At The World Cup In Aspen
The 19-year-old was the leader going into the final run. While she didn’t have any major mistakes, she did have a few breaks in her usually solid form. She wound up 1.08 seconds behind Hosp.
Shiffrin knew, too. About halfway down, the Olympic slalom champion knew this wasn’t going to be her day as she chased her first World Cup victory in her home country.
Maybe it’s all the training she’s been doing in the giant slalom and super-G, but her bread-and-butter event, the slalom, has been a little shaky this season. Shiffrin finished 11th in Levi, Finland, two weeks ago and now fifth — after leading following the first run and a partisan crowd cheering her on.
Still, she’s refusing to fret.
“I have a little bit of work to do on my slalom, honestly, and I knew that coming into this race,” Shiffrin said. “I’m really trying to get back to the skiing where I know that it’s good enough no matter what and I can step into the gate with confidence.
“Today, everybody was pumping me up, trying to get me to just do a training run and, ‘You’re fine. You don’t have to do anything special.’ I didn’t really believe that in myself. I think I had to pull something special out in the second run in order to win. Some of those other girls did that.”
Namely, Hosp. She had the fastest final run. No one was catching her.
This was Hosp’s first World Cup victory since Jan. 13, 2008, in a slalom race at Maribor, Slovenia. Her first World Cup win was in 2002.
Since then, she’s dealt with injuries, captured three Olympic medals — including a silver and bronze in Sochi — and won the 2007 overall World Cup title.
“This year I felt so good in the summer — no injuries, really healthy,” Hosp said. “I’m so happy it is working again.”
Zettel feels the same way. She had hip surgery in the offseason and is surprised how fast she’s returned to top form. Zettel is currently leading the overall World Cup race, but said that’s not really a goal.
“But it’s still nice to lead, for sure,” said Zettel, who doesn’t plan on doing a lot of speed this season.
It was the second straight slalom race in which Hansdotter has finished second. She also was runner-up in Levi, a race won by Tina Maze of Slovenia.
Maze had another solid day going Sunday, before struggling in the final run and finishing ninth.
The surprise of the day was the performance of American Resi Stiegler, who came in 11th. Stiegler has been contending with injuries the last few seasons.
“I’m pleased with Resi. I think it’s a matter of time when she’s going to be in top-five and on the podium again,” U.S. Alpine director Patrick Riml said.
– By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer
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