Putzer comes out of fog in Cortina; Mancuso places 2nd

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CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy (AP) – Karen Putzer nearly won the overall World Cup title four years ago. Then she disappeared.

On Sunday, Putzer re-emerged through thick fog and captured a giant slalom for her first victory since the 2002-03 season. She led both runs and finished in 2 minutes, 46.93 seconds on the Olympia delle Tofane course.

Olympic giant slalom champion Julia Mancuso was the runner-up, 0.04 seconds behind, for her fifth straight top-three finish. She was followed by Denise Karbon, the Italian’s best result in three seasons.

Mancuso’s streak is the best by an American woman since 1983 when Tamara McKinney had four top-three finishes – including three wins – in five days. McKinney won the overall title that season, the last U.S. woman to do so.

“She’s having fun right now and skiing unbelievably well, no matter what event,” U.S. head coach Patrick Riml said. “And she was the only one out of the top 10 today who skied in all three races in Cortina, plus the training run. That’s a lot of skiing, and Julia’s not only doing it, she’s doing it at such a high level.”

Putzer struggled with a bad hip the past three seasons and clashed with coaches and team officials over the injury. She initially refused surgery, then a doctor in New York operated in May.

“It was a complicated surgery. A few years ago, I’m not sure it would have worked,” Putzer said.

Putzer considered retiring at one point. “The most important thing was getting my health straightened out,” she said. “Once I did that, I started focusing on my skiing again.”

It all paid off Sunday on the course where she enjoyed her first top-three finish eight years ago.

“I didn’t expect this because my last GS I had a bad fall, so I thought it would be like starting all over again,” Putzer said. “It’s great to have confidence back in my legs.”

Mancuso gained points on the two women ahead of her in the overall standings, Marlies Schild and Nicole Hosp – both failed to finish. Schild leads the standings with 881 points, Hosp has 828 and Mancuso 794.

“It was definitely a good day to take advantage of skiing well because so many people had problems,” Mancuso said, adding that finishing on the podium was starting to become routine.

Karbon won the silver medal in GS at the 2003 world championships, then missed the entire 2004-05 season following her third knee operation.

“It’s great to be able to attack again,” said Karbon, who was 0.28 seconds behind. “The last four years have been very intense. There have been a lot of highs and lows.”

Max Blardone, a top GS skier on the men’s circuit, tested the course as a forerunner for both runs and radioed advice to Putzer and Karbon. Each of the three top finishers said fog was not a problem because the snow was hard and the best they’ve had this season.

“It was so smooth that you didn’t have to see the snow,” Mancuso said.

Schild, however, skied off course midway through her second run. Hosp bloodied her chin when she fell in the opening leg.

Hosp still leads the GS standings with 230 points. Tanja Poutiainen, who finished fifth, moved into second with 214 points. Kathrin Zettel finished 25th and dropped to third in the standings with 206 points. Mancuso is fourth with 166.

Anja Paerson missed a gate midway through the first run. The two-time overall World Cup champion has struggled following knee surgery. She hasn’t won since the final downhill last season in Are, the Swedish resort that will host the worlds Feb. 3-18.

“I had some new skis and I was really aggressive and I couldn’t really be comfortable,” Paerson said. “You don’t see anything. That’s why it’s a lot of crashes. It’s really hard to find the timing with the gates.”

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