CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy — Lindsey Vonn was encouraged simply by making it to the finish Sunday in her weakest discipline, giant slalom.
The 19th-place result wasn’t exactly what she was aiming for after consecutive victories in super-G and downhill the past two days, however, and Vonn was again critical of the way officials injected the course with water to create a more icy surface.
“Here in Cortina it’s the best snow on earth — it doesn’t get any better than this. They had a perfect track and in my opinion they ruined it,” Vonn said. “There’s no need whatsoever for injection on this hill.”
The race winner, Tanja Poutiainen of Finland, also questioned the practice, which is meant to make the course hold up throughout the race. Often in the technical races of slalom and giant slalom, courses get worn down with ruts as racer after racer come down and later starters have little chance of being competitive.
The problem this time was that water injection was used only on the bottom section of the course, with the snow untouched on the top.
“The conditions were changing from top to bottom. They watered the 10 gates at the bottom,” Poutiainen said. “I don’t know if it’s a good idea to have two different types of conditions on the course. Someone said it would have been very soft on the bottom but I don’t know.”
Women’s World Cup race director Atle Skaardal was not immediately available for comment.
Poutiainen won by a large margin, showing the technical specialist has fully recovered from a back problem just in time for the Vancouver Olympics.
Poutiainen posted a two-run combined time of 2 minutes, 26.51 seconds on the Olympia delle Tofane course. Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany finished a distant 1.05 seconds behind for the first podium result of her career, and giant slalom world champion Kathrin Hoelzl of Germany placed third, 1.45 behind.
“I’m back finally,” Poutiainen said. “My training over the last two weeks has been really good.”
Giant slalom is the only discipline in which Vonn has never finished on the podium. She failed to score a point in her previous four GS races, failing to finish the last three.
The Minnesota native stood 22nd after the opening run and posted the seventh-fastest second run.
“Today was definitely a little frustrating. It definitely wasn’t the result I was hoping for, but I finished and I can take confidence from that,” Vonn said. “It’s been too many races in a row where I’ve gone out, so at least I know I can get to the finish twice.”
Vonn retained a 56-point lead in the overall standings ahead of her German rival and best friend Maria Riesch, who finished eighth.
Sixteen skiers failed to finish their first run, many of them going out on the icy finishing gates. In the second leg, three of the first six starters didn’t finish and first-run leader Kathrin Zettel of Austria lost control and got caught on a gate, throwing her off course.
Anja Paerson fell shortly into her opening run. The Swedish standout slid downhill for about 50 meters on her side but then got up uninjured.
“It was a little hard to find the right setup,” Vonn said. “If you had too sharp edges on the top then you were struggling on the top, then if you had too dull edges you had no chance on the bottom, so it was a tough balance there.”
It’s not the first time this season Vonn has been critical of injected courses. She was also upset with an overly icy surface in Aspen, Colo., in November, and blamed alternating conditions after hurting her wrist in a fall in Lienz, Austria, at the end of December.
“I mean you look at the tracks and you could have won from the last start number today,” Vonn said. “Injection should only be used when absolutely necessary and it was definitely not necessary here. It makes it really tough for the athletes. They’re concerned about safety and for us to find skis that are working on both grippy snow and injection in the same course is next to impossible. It was completely stupid.”
The Olympic giant slalom in Whistler is a month away — Feb. 24.
“I really hope that they don’t ruin the conditions in Vancouver. I know that Whistler makes good conditions, so I hope to god that someone is actually paying attention to how much water is going into the snow so we’re not ice skating down the mountain for the Olympics, because that would be a complete catastrophe.”
It was the 10th career victory for Poutiainen, who won the silver medal in GS at the 2006 Turin Olympics behind Julia Mancuso of the United States, who failed to qualify for the second run in 35th position.
Next weekend’s speed races in St. Moritz, Switzerland, are the final women’s events before the Vancouver Games on Feb. 12.