Stephens overcomes soggy day to extend streak to 7

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Rain and sleet greeted the best skiers with disabilities in the world Monday at the Steamboat Ski Area, but the weather conditions did very little to dampen the spirit or performance of American sit-skier Laurie Stephens.

Stephens set a two-run pace of 2 minutes, 23.72 seconds to win her seventh World Cup giant slalom race in a row.

"It was her first win of the year, and she won all the giant slalom races last year, so the streak is alive," coach Kevin Jardine said. "It was big. It was her seventh giant slalom victory in a row, so it's a pretty good run."

Stephens was one of two women from the United States on the podium Monday. Stephani Victor, who skies for the United States but is not a member of the U.S. Ski Team placed second with a time of 2:27.74, and Austria's Claudia Losch was third at 2:40.66.

"I like the speed events better, but I won all six World Cup giant slaloms last year," Stephens said. " So I'm starting to like it a lot more."

Stephens, who has was born with spinal bifida and uses a wheel chair, said her main goal this season is to build on what she did last year when she collected 11 World Cup podiums and earned the overall title for giant slalom."

"I would like to do as well as I did last year if not better," Stephens said.

Victor was happy with her second-place finish in the opening World Cup of the 2004 season but already was looking forward to today's race and another shot at the top spot.

"I was happy to come in second," Victor said. "It was a good day to test your skills and get familiar with the hill, but now it's time to really go for it. I plan on pulling out all the stops in (today's) races."

The sit-ski class is just one of three in the Disabled World Cup format. The athletes compete against one another in classes using a factor system that adjusts each skier's time based on the severity of her disability. Other classes include the visually impaired and standing skier classes.

France's Pascale Casanove, led by guide Jean Philippe Mauriet, set the pace in the visually impaired class. The duo completed two runs in a time of 2:25.32. Spain's Carme Garcia and guide Marina Romero were second with a time of 2:34.25, and Anna Kuliskova and guide Martin Kulisek of the Czech Republic were third with a time of 2:45.27.

Austria's Danja Haslacher led the women's standing class by completing her runs in a time of 2:19.33. Slovakia's Iveta Chlebakova was second at 2:20.00 and German Andrea Rothfuss was third with a time of 2:22.96.

American Allison Jones just missed the podium in fourth at 2:23.12, and teammate Sandy Dukate was sixth at 2:26.44.

The women's races will continue today with a second giant slalom at the Steamboat Ski Area beginning at 10 a.m. The skiers will move to Howelsen on Wednesday and Thursday for slalom races. Those events also will begin at 10 a.m.

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