Maria Hoefl-Riesch claims Sochi downhill

18 February 2012 11:41

SOCHI, Russia – It’s always a question in any World Cup downhill if anyone will possibly beat Lindsey Vonn. Before the downhill race on the Olympic slope at Sochi’s Rosa Khutor, only Daniela Merighetti and Elisabeth Goergl had had DH wins this season other than Vonn but on Saturday, Maria Hoefl-Riesch added herself to the victory list.

The German 2011 World Cup overall champion clinched her first downhill victory in more than a year, firing down the tricky, turny Rosa Khutor course in 1 minute, 49.17 seconds. Goergl jetted into second place, finishing 0.43 seconds behind Hoefl-Riesch. Although the Austrian clinched the downhill and super G gold medals in last year’s world championships, she had never won a World Cup downhill until this season in Bad Kleinkirchheim. Vonn rounded out the podium in third, 0.59 seconds back and with those points, already clinches the downhill title for the season – the fifth of her decorated career.

Wearing bib No. 16, Vonn was the first down of the top speed racers and although she crossed the line more than a half a second in the lead, she did little celebrating. Hoefl-Riesch was next and when she crossed the line, she glanced at the board, then glanced a second time – throwing her arms into the air.

“I didn’t think I was that fast in my run,” Hoefl-Riesch said. “When I crossed the finish line, I saw the board far away. I saw the green light, I came close and wanted to be sure it’s really me standing at the top of the list and I couldn’t believe it. In downhill and super G, Lindsey is so dominating that everyone expects the win from her. This is sometimes easier for the rivals, so you can just hope you’re close and get second or third, this was my aim for today.”

The weather took a turn for the not-so-great for race day, especially after Friday's sun and bluebird skies. About 10 more centimeters of snow fell into Saturday and a thick fog settled on top of the course in the afternoon, finally preventing the final 15 racers on the start list from starting after a long race hold.

Goergl had a speedy training run on Friday and did some analysis of the course, isolating one very specific gate where she knew she good build speed on the Sochi course.

“I made one turn better and that was important,” Goergl said. “It’s the really important turn before the first flat. It’s where Lindsey skied so well yesterday. If you really want to be on top, it’s more important to push for it and ski on the limit line-wise. We have downhill’s where everybody skis the same line. It’s not so technical and you can’t bring so much out of it. Here it was especially important to make that one turn really short and make a high line and bring all the speed onto the flats. It’s really a turn where you have to be on the outside ski 100 percent.”

Vonn was also happy with the way she skied, saying she did not make any mistakes but maybe took a bit of a cautious line on the top of the course and made a poor choice by leaving her regular race skis behind.

“I may have been a little cautious at the top. The coaches were saying there was some soft snow there so to stay inside the track. I was staying above the line, that maybe wasn’t’ the fastest line,” she said. “Also, I’ve gone on the same race skis all season but we decided to go on a different pair today. I think that was maybe the wrong choice. I think my normal race boards would have been a little faster  but it’s already passed so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Vonn was happy to have the pressure off with another downhill title in the bag but said clinching another super-combined title, which is based only on three races, is going to be a challenge on Sunday in Sochi. She won the first SC of the season and Hoelf-Riesch won the second.

“Tomorrow is going to be intense,” Vonn said. “I would really love to win one here in Russia.”

Hoefl-Riesch said she would be coming into Sunday’s super-combi with a new wave of confidence.

“Every win gives you confidence. I won the last super-combined. My performance is really going up now at the end of the season,” she said, “I’m so happy how things are going at the moment. Of course when I look at results now, I think, man it would have been better to finish some more slaloms. Sometimes it’s hard to explain why things are going so good or so bad. I couldn’t tell you why things are going so good at the moment.”

Things were not going as good for Tina Maze on Saturday, who is second to Vonn in the overall standings (994 points to Vonn’s 1442 while Hoefl-Riesch now has 956). After colliding with the camera man in the finish area in Friday’s training, Maze went to the hospital and had a bruise on her thigh and pain on the side of her head. She still raced on Saturday and ended up 12th but said she was “not OK.”

Tina Weirather, who was second to Vonn in the downhill standings, finished fourth on Saturday, 0.81 seconds back (the only other racer within a second of Riesch) and said she never had any hope of catching the American in the standings.

“I am just glad I am having this kind of season,” Weirather said. “I never thought I could beat Lindsey.”

Vonn clinches the title with an insurmountable 590 points as Hoefl-Riesch is now in second with 359, Goergl is in third with 355 and now Weirather is sitting in fourth with 350.

France’s Marion Rolland brought it down for fifth place on Saturday, 1.11 seconds back as Julia Mancuso was sixth, 1.13 back, Merighetti seventh 1.48 seconds back, France’s Marie Marchand-Arvier in eighth, 1.74 seconds back and Americans Stacey Cook and Alice McKennis in ninth (1.80 back) and 10th (1.89 back), respectively, marking the only time in the history of U.S. skiing that four women have finished in the top 10 in downhill.

Racing in Sochi wraps up Sunday with super-combined. The super G is set for 11:00 local time for the super G and 14:00 for the slalom.

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

Go here for Sochi race action video.

GO here for full race results.