Poutiainen Shows Return To Form With GS Victory

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CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy (AP) – Tanja Poutiainen won a World Cup giant slalom on Sunday and Lindsey Vonn retained her overall lead after finishing 19th.

Poutiainen posted a two-run combined time of 2 minutes, 26.51 seconds on the Olympia delle Tofane course, showing that the technical specialist from Finland has fully recovered from a back problem just in time for the Vancouver Olympics.

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.”

Vonn has a 56-point lead in the overall standings on Maria Riesch of Germany, who was eighth.

Vonn was coming off super-G and downhill victories the past two days, but giant slalom is her most difficult event, and the only discipline in which she’s never finished on the podium.

“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 was coming off a run of four giant slalom races in which she failed to earn a single point.

Like Vonn, Poutiainen also questioned the course preparation.

“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.”

First-run leader Kathrin Zettel of Austria lost control and got caught on a gate midway down the second leg, throwing her off course. Zettel won both technical races last weekend in Maribor, Slovenia.

Anja Paerson fell shortly into her opening run. The Swedish standout slid downhill for about 50 yards on her side but then got up.

“I just wanted it too much in one gate,” Paerson said.

Paerson was not injured but still received attention from a trainer for her knees.

“I had some pain after the landings yesterday but it’s nothing special,” she said.

Second after the opening run, Poutiainen trailed Rebensburg through the first split on her second trip down, then skied a full second faster on the bottom section.

Poutiainen hadn’t won since taking the season-opening GS in October at Soelden, Austria. She was then forced to skip races in December due to pain in her lower back.

“Something just got blocked in my lower back. I couldn’t train before Aspen and I tried to race but it didn’t work, so I went home for some physical therapy,” Poutiainen said. “Sometimes your body just needs a rest – I think my body was just too tired.”

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 Sunday for the second run.

Next weekend’s speed races in St. Moritz, Switzerland, are the final women’s events before the Vancouver Games open Feb. 12. This was the final giant slalom before the Olympics, and only one more GS remains on the World Cup calendar, at the finals in March at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

The GS title will be decided between Hoelzl and Zettel, with Hoelzl 26 points ahead.

“That’s something I’ll have to accept – no globes in slalom or GS,” said Poutiainen, who is out of contention. “But this is sports and I’m always happy when I can win something. There are still some big things to come this season and then I can fight for the globes again next season.”

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