Fenninger lands first World Cup victory in Lienz GS

28 December 2011 10:46

LIENZ, Austria – Never mind that young Anna Fenninger had never before stood on a World Cup giant slalom podium. On Wednesday, in front of a very loud home crowd, the Austrian soared right to the top step, winning the race in 2 minutes, 16.08 seconds.

It was the first World Cup victory for the 22-year-old, whose five other Cup podiums have come in super G and downhill but who claimed the gold medal in super-combined last year at the world championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

“It was a big surprise for me also,” Fenninger said of her success Wednesday. “Every time I thought my first win could be in the super G but now it’s in GS. It’s the biggest Christmas present for me. At home, it’s even better.”

Italian giant slalom specialist Federica Brignone, who had an unlucky start to the season with crashes in the two preceding GS races, was back to form Wednesday, finishing second, 0.20 seconds behind Fenninger, as France’s Tessa Worley also appeared back on her game, rounding out the podium in third, 0.39 seconds back.

With the sun beaming bright on the Tyrolean resort in the Dolomites, 2011 World Cup GS champion Viktoria Rebensburg put down an early lead in the first run, although the field was stacked tightly, with Austrian Stefanie Koehle on her heels, just 0.01 seconds behind the German going into the second run. Elisabeth Goergl, who has been very fast in GS so far this season with a third place in Soelden and second in Aspen, was just 0.11 seconds back after the first run and the next nine racers were all within a second of Rebensburg going into the second run.

Although the course for the second run was set by her coach, Rebensburg was one of several racers to slide around a gate or two. She led at the top split in the second run but after a little bobble approaching the final steep pitch, she slipped to fourth place when she crossed the finish line, 0.49 seconds back. Koehle also dropped her speed in the second run, but still finished in sixth place – a career best – after Lindsey Vonn, who finished a very respectable fifth.

As several racers dropped speed in the last section of the course in the second run (including Goergl, who ended up seventh), Fenninger, who was in sixth place after the first run, trailing by just 0.23 seconds, was one of few to accelerate. Her entire family was on hand to witness her victory.

“The first run was good, too, but I made a little mistake,” Fenninger said. “I was so close to the top so I risked a lot in the second."

Brignone also had a very strong first run, finishing just 0.16 seconds slower than Rebensburg. Landing on the podium – the third of her career in the World Cup, although she did take GS silver in last season’s world championships – is a big confidence booster after her unfortunate mistakes in Soelden and Aspen.

“I’m really happy because after two falls it was not easy for me to be sure of my skiing,” she said. “After the first run, I did a good run and I tried to ski as I know the second run. I knew in some places I could be better and push more. After Soelden and Aspen I was not really sure. I had a fear of doing mistakes again. So I’m really happy today.”

 The Italians have a history of success in Lienz and due to its proximity to Italy consider it almost a home racing hill. They did very well once again on Wednesday with six racers in the top 25, including Irene Curtoni, who had the fastest second run time (1:08.72) and finished 11th after taking 29th in the first run. Wearing bib No. 42, Sabrina Fanchini, who has only competed in a handful of World Cup races and only scored points in three slaloms before Wednesday, finished eighth.

 Until Wednesday, Worley’s season was not going all that great either. After taking second to Rebensburg in the GS standings last season, the French/Australian skier began in Soelden by snagging a gate and losing her pole in the first run but still fought to fourth place in the race. In Aspen, where she had won two seasons ago, Worley slid off course in the first run. Her podium in Lienz, she hopes, marks a new beginning.

“At the first run, I wasn’t really in the race, I didn’t manage to do a good ski. I just wanted to do my skiing in the second run,” she said. “It was little time between all of us, so it was possible to do a big run, but I knew all the other girls were very strong. So I’m happy I had a chance to finish on the podium. Now I will try to get maybe the first place.”

Although Rebensburg has dominated the first three GS races this season, finishing second to Vonn in Soelden, winning in Aspen and fourth Wednesday, Worley pointed out that Fenninger’s result in Lienz proves how competitive the discipline is becoming.

“It’s pretty amazing this year because there are a lot of girls coming in GS and doing better with great results,” she said. “GS is a very good discipline for this because there is a lot of suspense and a lot of girls can win.”

Rebensburg leads the current GS standings with 230 points, although with her sudden GS prowess this season (sixth in Soelden and fourth in Aspen), Fenninger is in second with 190 points after three races and also trails Lindsey Vonn in second place in the overall standings. Vonn has 599 points and Fenninger has 368. Marlies Schild, who has won all three slalom races so far this season, is in third place in the overall standings with 340 points.

Women’s World Cup racing continues in Lienz on Sunday with slalom. The first run is scheduled for 10:15 local time.

Go here for video interviews with Fenninger, Brignone and Worley.

Go here for full results.

by Shauna Farnell/farnell@fisski.com