In 2006, Resi Stiegler, born and raised in Jackson Hole, Wyo., raced at the Torino Winter Olympics. She was just a couple months past her 20th birthday. She took 11th in the combined, 12th in the slalom. The future seemed so bright. In October, 2007, she took fourth in the slalom at the World Cup stop in Reiteralm, Austria, just off the podium. Then came two more top-10 World Cup slalom finishes that December, one in Canada, the other in Aspen. Her breakthrough seemed -- right there.
It had to wait until Sunday.
In the interim, she has known pain and seen hospitals and rehab centers. Repeatedly.
Resi Stiegler is tough.
At the World Cup stop in Ofterschwang, Germany, skiing from bib 35, an almost-impossible position, and in slushy, warm snow, Stiegler raced Sunday to second-place, beaten only by five-hundredths of a second, by Canada's Erin Mielzynsky.
It was Mielzynsky's first World Cup podium finish, too. Her winning combined time over the two runs: 1:53.59. She became the first Canadian to win a World Cup slalom since 1971, according to the authoritative Hank McKee at SkiRacing.com.
Austria's Marlies Schild, who has won all but one of the season's slalom races, finished third, two-hundredths of a second behind Stiegler.
Lindsey Vonn crashed in the first run. Vonn still holds a commanding lead in the overall standings; the tour now moves to Are, Sweden, for the final giant slalom and slalom races of the season. After that comes the World Cup finals in Schladming, Austria.
No one has ever doubted that Resi Stiegler had talent.
Or fantastic bloodlines. Her dad, Pepi, racing for Austria, is a three-time Olympic medalist. He won gold in the slalom in Innsbruck in 1964; in the giant slalom, he won silver in 1960 in Squaw Valley and bronze in 1964.
Beginning in December, 2007, Resi Stiegler has endured a string of injuries that are so freakishly bad, almost weird, it almost makes you wince just thinking about it.
That December, a crash in Lienz, Austria, sent her sliding under the fence and into the trees. She broke her left forearm and right shinbone and tore ligaments in her right knee. Here is video of the crash.
She returned in time for the 2009 world championships in Val d'Isere, France; there, French President Nikolas Sarkozy signed her racing bib. A week later, she broke her foot and was out for the rest of the season.
In November, 2009, after competing in the early-season races in Soelden, Austria, and Levi, Finland, Stiegler, preparing for the U.S. World Cup stop in Aspen, fell while training in Colorado. She broke her left leg. That kept her out of the 2010 Olympics.
In a conference call Sunday, Stiegler talked at length about "growing up and having different thoughts than I had when I was 20."
She said, "This year was kind of that for me. I knew I had been skiing really fast. I didn't want to get just top-20, top-25. I wanted to be in the top-5. And I knew I was skiing well enough to do that.
"But to put it down on that day is a whole another mental game. For me, I had to learn how to focus in on -- what negative thoughts I didn't need, to think about something that was positive, just get the job done. For me, that was the easiest way to overcome a lot of the negative mental activity I had, focusing on what I wanted to do, that I just wanted to have, an amazing run."
Stiegler's first run Sunday catapulted her from the 35th start slot into ninth, 82-hundredths back. Her second run shot her into the lead; only Mielzynsky would go faster.
Alex Hoedlmoser, the U.S. women's team's head coach, said in a statement that he was "super-, super-psyched for Resi," adding, "This is so amazing for her and it's hard to put it into words, actually."
Asked on that conference call if finishing in second place felt like first, Stiegler laughed.
"Yes, it did," she said. "I have visualized this since I was a child. I feel like I won. To me I don't feel like I -- you know, whether I got first or second or third today, the podium was a huge accomplishment.
"… I never in my wildest dreams thought it was going to happen this year. It's just a dream come true for me. Because the feeling is amazing."