Lindsey Vonn wins season's first ladies super-combined
ST. MORITZ, Switzerland – With only three super-combined races in the season, Lindsey Vonn was feeling the pressure hanging onto her lead after the downhill portion of the first SC of the season in St. Moritz on Friday … but she did a good job of disguising it.
The American World Cup overall leader kept it together very smoothly in the slalom portion of the race to claim victory, winning with a combined time of 2 minutes, 28.35 seconds. Tina Maze also mastered the long ski/short ski combination to take second place, 0.41 seconds behind Vonn and Nicole Hosp landed her first podium since December 2010, finishing third Friday, 0.58 seconds back.
Kathrin Zettel was one of very few of the high-ranked tech skiers to do well in the slalom portion of the race – which eliminated a large part of the field, including 2010 Olympic super-combined champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch. Zettel finished fourth, 1.19 seconds back. The rest the field finished well over 2 seconds off of Vonn’s winning time.
“It was a tough race today. I’m really happy with my downhill run and in the slalom, I knew what I had to do,” Vonn said. “It was more a tactical game for me. I had to really ski solid on the pitch and really let it go on the flats. It was enough for the win, so I’m happy.”
As is usually the case in super-combined, the technically savvy skiers clearly separate themselves in the slalom. Maze, who has proven more than ever in the last two years that she is a true all-around skier who can be on top in every discipline, is especially excelling in slalom this season, and put down the fastest run in the tight gates on Saturday.
“It’s not at all an easy slalom. They injected it and it’s bumpy,” Maze said. “It was hard to catch the rhythm from the start into the steeps. I was attacking 100 percent and it was worth it. I’m second, but for Lindsey, she was too much in front in downhill.”
After the downhill portion of the race, Vonn commented that her 0.61-second lead over Elisabeth Goergl (who was later disqualified for missing a gate in the slalom) and less than a second over Hoefl-Riesch was not enough to make her comfortable. Even after Hoefl-Riesch slipped passed a gate and had to hike – moving her from podium contention to 21st place in the end – Vonn knew Maze and Hosp – both of whom trailed by around a second and a half after the downhill – would be hard to beat.
“I definitely felt I had to risk a lot in the slalom,” Vonn said. “When I got done with the downhill, with Tina so close, I knew she’d be dangerous, also Niki, also Maria … my biggest competitors today. I was just happy I was able to stay ahead of them. I definitely lost time to them in the slalom, but – super-combineds aren’t always about winning both runs but more skiing smart and making it to the finish. So I’m glad could do that today.”
Hosp, after a downhill run that was far better than her two training runs, in which she finished at the back of the pack, also threw down a smoking slalom run. Maze had the fastest slalom time in 43.82 seconds and Hosp was just 0.03 seconds slower. Vonn’s slalom run was a full second slower than Maze’s (44.82).
“I’m so happy about it,” Hosp said of her podium-winning race. “It was a hard time the last weeks and months and I’m just happy. I had not good trainings, in the first I made a lot of mistakes and in the second training I had the wrong skis and it was so slow. So I was really happy today after the downhill I was just 1.5 behind Lindsey.”
Following her stellar season in 2007 in which she won the World Cup overall and the following season when she finished second to Vonn, Hosp’s career has not been easy. The Austrian tore a ligament in her left knee before the 2009 world championships and then coming back strong at the end of that season, tore more ligaments in the 2010 season opener in Soelden, sidelining her for all of that season, including for the Olympic Games.
Coming back in 2011, when she notched the one aforementioned podium in Val d’Isere, Hosp has had a couple of strong super G finishes this season (10th in Bad Kleinkircheim and 11th in Cortina d’Ampezzo), but appeared to hit her technical stride again last weekend in Kranska Gora, where she was sixth in the slalom. She emphasized the significance of gaining some renewed confidence going from that build-up to a podium finish.
“It was so important,” she said. “ I was not that sure the last time I can ski again very fast. It’s not that fun when you’re just skiing behind all the other girls and you know I was one time very fast and winner of the overall World Cup and now I’m at the end of the results. So now it’s good again and I’m very happy.”
Hosp said it wasn’t the course-set of the slalom run that made it difficult, but the conditions of the course. Hoefl-Riesch said the same, saying she simply could not get a good grip on the slope.
“I was just slipping and I have some problems with my setup when it’s bumpy and icy, s so I had no chance,” Hoefl-Riesch said. “The first pitch was a little bit rough because of the late number, because everyone is really trying hard to get a grip and there were some ruts. It’s a big disappointment but I try to forget it really fast and try again tomorrow.”
There were a total of 12 DNFs in Friday’s race, which was a replacement of the super-combined event originally scheduled for Val d’Isere. Four of the DNFs happened in the downhill portion of the race, mostly crashes but none resulting in serious injury, but the slalom brought some true mishap, beginning with a fumbling straddle by Lara Gut, missed gates by Tina Weirather and Goergl and then a very hard crash from speed specialist Fabienne Suter, which unfortunately resulted in some stretched ligaments in her right knee with which Swiss coaches said she will likely be off the race hill for a few weeks.
Vonn now leads the World Cup overall standings with 1070 points - more than she's ever had in January. Maze is her closest competitor with 768.
The women’s World Cup in St. Moritz continues Saturday with downhill at 10:30 local time.
By Shauna Farnell