Elisabeth Goergl lands first World Cup downhill victory

07 January 2012 13:10

BAD KLEINKIRCHHEIM, Austria – Elisabeth Goergl likes it when things go as planned and although the World Cup downhill course in Bad Kleinkirchheim threw out its fair share of technical challenges, the Austrian skied down exactly the way she had envisioned.

Collapsing not with exhaustion but with joy in the finish area when she crossed the line in the lead, Goergl claimed the first downhill victory of her World Cup career. She won with a time of 1 minute, 48.40 seconds on Saturday as American Julia Mancuso also mastered the turny, bumpy course and took the second step of the podium, just 0.16 seconds off the winning time. Following up her second place in last month’s super G at Beaver Creek, Switzerland’s Fabienne Suter, who just celebrated her 27th birthday, rounded out the podium in BKK, 0.50 seconds back.

The Austrian’s mastery of the tricky course was reminiscent of last year’s gold medal downhill victory at the world championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which Goergl amazingly followed up with the super G win as well.

On Saturday, she said she left the start gate with a good feeling and kept it around every gate.

“I felt very comfortable on this course right after the first inspection,” the 30-year-old said. “My training run was not the best, but I got a good feeling for the slope and the turns and what I had to do. I’m pretty happy I brought it right to the point. With a victory like this, there are a lot of people standing behind the athlete. Winning is not easy, but today everything was right for me. I like this kind of course and the snow. It was tough skiing. I enjoyed it.”

Following the one training run held on Thursday, the wind in Bad Kleinkirchheim picked up to speeds of 130 kilometers per hour making the second training run scheduled for Friday impossible. The wind died down Saturday but course workers had to clear a great deal of debris – tree branches, pine cones, etc. – off the course for the race and with the colder temperatures, the snow was much harder than it was in training. Mancuso referred to the small bumps below the surface of the snow as “micro terrain.”

“Yeah, it was very difficult up there today,” Mancuso said. “Also with the light, the conditions, it was good but bumpy. It’s just hard because you have to make a lot of direction before the hill drops away. It’s just fighting the whole way.”

The course began with a very steep pitch with two gates that skiers had to throw their skis sideways to make. This led into a fast section of flats, then around a couple ‘S’ turns, over a blind knoll and down another pitch with wide gates that several racers missed and then onto another flat leading into a tight turn and steep pitch to the finish. The course was off-camber nearly throughout, making it difficult for skiers to keep both skis evenly weighted and although the snow was hard, there were tiny bumps underneath the surface.

“I think I’m better if there’s a lot of bumps in the piste and it’s very difficult,” Suter said. “Maybe I’m better in these slopes. You have to be very active with your skiing.”

 Current World Cup overall leader Lindsey Vonn, who has won both other downhill races this season, slid onto her hip around the second gate on course – on one of the trickiest sections on the steepest pitch right out of the start gate – but bounced back onto her feet and managed to build speed the rest of the way down, missing the podium by mere hundredths of a second and taking fourth, 0.55 seconds off Goergl’s winning time. Unlike Goergl,Vonn, who has been fighting a stomach virus throughout week, was feeling “off” from the start.

“I didn’t really have a good feeling from the very beginning,” Vonn said. “My balance isn’t there, my energy isn’t there. I tried my best. I fought the whole way down. Every bump seemed to mess me up. I wasn’t clean. I wasn’t building pressure at the top of the turn like I normally do. That’s not the way I normally ski. But I’m happy with my result, considering everything.”

Goergl cut the second gate close in similar fashion to Vonn, but managed to stay ahead of her skis the whole way while most other racers who had problems on the course did so near the bottom. The first of these was Italian Daniela Merighetti who missed the gate after the flat that led over a blind knoll. Right after her, Viktoria Rebensburg made nearly the same mistake and then France’s Marie Marchand-Arvier, who had the lead through the first three splits, lost her footing and crashed into the fence around one of the last bank turns on the course.

After welcoming Goergl into the finish area with deafening cheers, the collective boom of the home crowd reached a high point once again as, wearing bib No. 31, technical specialist Kathrin Zettel took a surprise lead at the top of the course and kept the green light through the third split. Carrying maybe more speed than she was expecting, the Austrian went wide around the very last turn on the course, snagged the final gate and crashed right before she crossed the finish line. She did not sustain any major injuries.

Following a diagnosis of flu and fever after training on Thursday, last year's World Cup overall winner Maria Hoefl-Riesch opted out of the race on Saturday. Vonn leads the current overall standings with 691 points, trailed by Marlies Schild with 540 and now Goergl with 405. Vonn leads the downhill standings with 250 points with Goergl behind her with 171 and Dominique Gisin with 145.

Go here for telling video interviews with Goergl, Mancuso and Suter.

By Shauna Farnell

Go here for full race results.