Daniela Merighetti lands first Cup win in Cortina downhill

14 January 2012 11:52

CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy – Italian Daniela Merighetti has been racing on the World Cup since 2000. Back in 2003, she had one podium in the Are giant slalom. On Saturday in the downhill in Cortina d’Ampezzo, with her family, a large fan club and thousands of her compatriots bearing witness, she finally got a second podium … and also her first World Cup victory. With a broken thumb on her left hand, no less.

With the sun shining in a bluebird sky in the Dolomites, but with a strong wind swirling once again, the 30-year-old Italian crossed the finish line with a time of 1 minute, 33.17 seconds. Lindsey Vonn was the closest racer to her, taking second place, 0.21 seconds back as Maria Hoefl-Riesch, who skipped last weekend’s races to stay in bed with the flu, shot to the podium, taking third, 0.40 seconds back.

Upon leaving the finish area, Merighetti was swarmed with well-wishers wanting photos and autographs. She said the day felt like a dream.

“Nine years ago, it was GS, now I’m in the speed discipline and today is perfect,” she said. “The victory is amazing. It’s perfect. I have to say thanks to my supporters, my fan club … I like so much the slope, the mountains around, the warmth [of] the people.”

Back in 2007, Merighetti missed the Cortina downhill podium by mere hundredths of a second. Although she has 25 top 10 results on the World Cup and is always a threat, the podium has somehow eluded her all of these years. Last weekend she missed a gate in the downhill and then broke her left thumb on the way to her 12-place result in the super G in Bad Kleinkirchheim. She had surgery the next day and wore a cast on Saturday.

“It’s OK. Today I don’t feel the pain,” she said, adding that her celebration tonight would be a simple affair with those who understand the value of her victory the most. “No special things … I have the team. I will [celebrate] with my team.”

Vonn was happy with her run and said it was basically flawless. Still, when races are won by two-tenths of a second, a gust of wind can make a difference no matter how perfectly one skis.

“It was a solid run,” she said. “I didn’t really make any mistakes. Today you needed to ski well but also have a bit of luck with the wind. It was constantly changing. Right out of the start I got some really bad wind, it was swirling and I couldn’t see the first gate. I knew it was going to be a fight to the finish. I did my best to stay in my tuck as much as possible and fly low, unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough for the win today. But you know, when you have conditions like this in any event, you could be last easily. So you have to be happy when you are on the podium, and I definitely am.”

Vonn also extended a congratulations to the Italian winner.

“I’m happy for Merighetti,” Vonn said. “She won in Italy and I think that’s really important for our sport.”

Saturday’s race was only the third downhill of the season for Hoefl-Riesch, who opted out of last weekend’s races in Bad Kleinkirchheim to go home and rest in order to get over a bad bout of the flu. Although she has notched two slalom podiums this season (in Aspen and Flachau), the German hadn’t been reaching last year’s consistency in the speed events.

“I’m happy to be back on the podium in downhill,” Hoefl-Riesch said, adding that she had a few mistakes in her run. “It was not a perfect run. Over some big rolls I got little low and lost some speed. It’s good to see I can be on the podium without a perfect run. It was fun. I was having fun today. The snow was so great.”

Although the wind built up again throughout the morning, it wasn’t quite as strong as on Friday, when the second downhill training run was conducted without the final jump. Still, racers said the wind definitely played a role in the race on Saturday, but acknowledged that external elements are always a part of ski racing.

“My run was really good,” said Tina Maze, who, for the fifth time in the last three years was fourth place in Cortina, finishing 0.46 slower than the winning time. Still, considering that she was in bed all day Friday with a stomach flu, she was happy with her result. “Today I felt much better, so I could ski good. I’m really happy about this run … even though I’m fourth again in Cortina. I don’t think I had wind in my run. After No. 22, you could see it’s starting the wind in the back. You never know. You could see there was wind, but you never know how it goes around. It’s part of the sport.”

The race started in somewhat foreboding fashion as the first athlete down the course – France’s Aurelie Revillet – lost her balance in the air off the first jump coming out of the steep and shady Tofana section and crashed hard into the fence. She stood up and managed to get down the hill on her own, and although there were five other DNFs (including young Austrian star Anna Fenninger, who simply lost her balance in one section and missed a gate but stayed on her feet), no racers appeared to sustain serious injury.

However, the Swiss team reported that Dominique Gisin, 16th on Saturday, left for Switzerland after the race to have her knee checked out, as it has been giving her problems over the last couple of weeks.

After Maze in fourth, Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather notched the second best result of her World Cup career (following her first podium this season in the Lake Louise downhill) with fifth place Saturday, 0.57 seconds behind Merighetti’s winning time. Also, American Stacey Cook is proving to be very consistent in downhill so far this season, notching top 10s in both Lake Louise and Bad Kleinkirchheim and taking sixth on Saturday in Cortina, 0.67 seconds out. Fabienne Suter followed up last weekend’s tremendous performances in Austria with a seventh place Saturday, 0.73 seconds out, Elisabeth Goergl was eighth, 0.79 seconds back, Julia Mancuso was ninth, 0.82 seconds back and Anja Paerson posted her best result so far this season in 10th, 0.83 seconds back.

World Cup racing in Cortina continues on Sunday with the super G at 11:30 local time.

Go here for Cortina DH race action video.

Go here for video interviews with Merighetti, Vonn and Hoefl-Riesch.

By Shauna Farnell

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