American skier Schleper: 'I smelled my flesh burning'
There were plenty of circumstances that would lead to the conclusion that Sarah Schleper was not a serious contender for a medal in Friday's Olympic slalom race. She had missed two complete World Cup seasons, not only recovering from torn knee ligaments, but getting married and giving birth to a son, Lasse, now 2. She had failed to finish five of seven slalom races this season.
And then her chances got worse. In a brief training session prior to competition, a gate -- one of the plastic poles around which skiers must race in the slalom -- snapped back and whacked her in the face.
Best to let her describe what happened next.
"I smelled my flesh burning," Schleper said. "That was kind of weird."
There was, alas, no explanation for why a plastic pole would lead to burning flesh. Again, her words.
"I was like, 'What's that smell?', because I felt the pain," Schleper said. "Then I'm like, all of a sudden a pool of blood was under my boots, and I went, 'Ah!' My jacket was covered in blood."
This is the Olympics, though, smoldering chin or not. What to do? She stopped the bleeding, flipped her bloody starting bib inside-out, and skied. She turned in a strong first run, ninth in the field. Between runs, she got a novocaine injection -- "That probably hurt the most," she said -- and received five stitches.
All of this likely could have been avoided had Schleper, 31, been wearing a "slalom bar," the facemask most racers wear to prevent such injuries, a bar that looks like it belongs on Joe Theismann's old Redskins helmet. Schleper said she was looking for the equipment Thursday night, prior to the race, but couldn't come up with one that fit her new helmets.
Whatever. With all that in the past, she went after the second run. She skied well over the flat, top of the course, and was holding a lead -- with the top racers still to come -- as she approached the bottom.
"I was just trying to maintain the rhythm of it," Schleper said.
She could not. On a steep pitch near the bottom, she slowed, barely making it around several gates. Considering her day -- the flesh, the blood, the stitches -- she did well to even finish, but she did so 16th, 2.99 seconds behind gold medal-winner Maria Riesch of Germany.
February 26, 2010; 7:59 PM ET
Categories: Skiing , Vancouver 2010
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