Mancuso takes lead in foggy giant slalom

By Erik Kirschbaum ZWIESEL, Germany, Reuters

American Julia Mancuso took the lead after the first leg of a women’s giant slalom World Cup race on Saturday on a fog-shrouded course that was slowed by fresh snowfall.

Olympic champion Mancuso, who is in a tight four-way battle with three Austrians for the overall championship, did not let a 30-minute weather delay bother her and took advantage of starting first to record a time of 55.28 seconds.

Tanja Poutiainen of Finland was second 0.16 behind and Austria’s Michaela Kirchgasser took third, 0.23 back.

Nicole Hosp, who leads the giant slalom standings by 36 points ahead of Poutiainen, was back in sixth place, 0.77 behind Mancuso, who celebrated her 23rd birthday here on Friday.

“It’s great weather here,” said Mancuso, who thrives on difficult conditions and won her Olympic gold medal last year when it was snowing.

“The snow’s soft, the conditions are not good,” she said. “But we’re all in the same boat.”

Organisers pushed back the start because of the snowfall and fog at the top of the Arber course, which is in eastern Bavaria near the Czech border. They then put down blue markings to help the skiers see the outlines of the course.

“It was a good time for my starting number,” said Poutiainen, who started sixth. “Everything is possible.”

Mancuso, aiming to become the first American woman to win the overall trophy since Tamara McKinney in 1983, is in a dead heat with Austrian Renate Goetschl at the top of the overall standings with 1,199 points.

Goetschl’s team mates Hosp (1,183) and Marlies Schild (1,170) are also within striking range with six races left — Saturday’s giant slalom and a slalom here on Sunday before races in all four disciplines at Lenzerheide in Switzerland next week.

Schild was 11th in the first leg on Saturday, 1.17 behind Mancuso while Goetschl was 22nd, 1.82 back.

Mancuso and Goetschl, who has already won the downhill and super-G trophies this season, are stronger in speed disciplines, while Hosp and Schild, who has already clinched the slalom and super-combined trophies, are technical specialists.