Vonn opens season with win
SOELDEN, Austria – After missing the overall World Cup title by three points last season, Lindsey Vonn was determined to hit this season harder than ever before. She couldn’t have packed a bigger punch than the one she delivered in the opening giant slalom race in Soelden on Saturday, landing the victory and her first ever win in a World Cup GS.
“This is just an amazing feeling. I’ve always dreaded Soelden. It’s the first race. I’m always so nervous,” said Vonn, who notched the first World Cup GS podium of her career last season with a third place in Spindleruv Mlyn. “To come out today, first race of the season, the first GS win in my career … words can’t describe the feeling.”
Reigning World Cup giant slalom champion Viktoria Rebensburg missed her second straight victory in Soelden by just 0.04 seconds, taking second to Vonn while Elisabeth Goergl, who hadn’t podiumed in GS since her bronze medal in the 2010 Olympic Games, landed third, 0.40 seconds back.
With the sun shining brightly in a cloudless blue sky, the overflowing crowd in Soelden got what they came for Saturday … an exciting race.
World champion silver medalist Federica Brignone was leading the field after the first run, 0.40 seconds ahead of Rebensburg with Goergl and Vonn within a second of her time going into run No. 2. The last racer down the course, Brignone’s second run ended abruptly when she crashed on the steep top pitch of the Rettenbach Glacier.
“I don’t know what happened really,” Brignone said. “I think I was sliding a little bit [too] much. But it’s OK. I did a very good first run so I know I’m competitive this year. I know I can win next time.”
Vonn, who hadn’t trained much in the days before the race due to a crash earlier in the week, credits her downhill skills for her win, as she gained a lot of speed on the flat bottom of the course where most racers lost it.
“I knew where to let the skis go and carry speed from the end of the pitch onto the flats,” she said. “I had a little more confidence in giant slalom this season after being on the podium. My tactic in both runs was to ski well on the pitch but not take too many risks and carry as much speed as I could onto the flats. I’ve been training a lot of GS this summer so I guess I figured it out. I tried to ski smart and it paid off. I just hope I can keep the momentum going and the confidence high. It couldn’t have gone any better. Finally I’m fast in GS. To have a win in all five disciplines is more than I could ever hope for.”
Missing a win by such a narrow margin (hundredths of a second) stung a bit, but Rebensburg was happy to continue her streak of success. The 22-year-old German hasn’t finished worse than 10th in any but one GS race in the last two years, her prowess including an Olympic gold medal in 2010, three World Cup wins and one second place helping her toward the title last season.
“Of course, the first moments when I came into the finish, I was arguing about the four hundredths, but I’m happy for being on the podium again for the first race of the season,” she said. “Lindsey did a good job today. It was not easy to ski. It was icy in some parts and aggressive in some parts. But that’s skiing … you have to handle that.”
Goergl has also put a lot of focus on GS training this pre-season and after becoming the world downhill and super G champion last year, was pleased to be back on her giant slalom game. She was also happy to conquer her home country hill that had been something of a nemesis to her in the past. In her eight other World Cup starts here, her best result was ninth back in 2007.
“Until now I didn’t really like this hill,” Goergl said. “I trained good and I improved my technique. I was always there in GS. I had some good results in the Olympics, but I didn’t have two good runs over the last years. This was a good start. I’m excited for the next races. I think I stayed cool and just didn’t freak out. I’m happy I got third.”
France’s Tessa Worley, who finished second to Rebensburg in the GS standings last year, fought to fourth place Saturday in spite of snagging a gate and losing a pole in the first run. Sweden’s Maria Pietilae-Holmner notched her best GS result in two years in fifth place. Wearing bib No. 31, Austrian Anna Fenninger accounted for a blast of noisy cheers from the crowd when she skied to sixth place, easily her best ever result in a World Cup GS. Kathrin Zettel ended up seventh, Jessica Lindell-Vikarby eighth, Taina Barioz ninth and Julia Mancuso 10th. Starting in her first ever World Cup GS, Swiss speed specialist Dominique Gisin managed to pull off 11th place. Wearing bib No. 44 and returning from injury, Lichtenstein’s Tina Weirather took 12th.
Other surprises Saturday included Finnish tech star Tanja Poutiainen skiing off-course in the first run, notching her first DNF in any race in nearly five years.
“I struggled with my hand in the gate, so then I got twisted. I was so far out that I couldn’t come back anymore,” Poutiainen said. “But I see that I can ski fast. I have to take risks, so it can happen even for me that I can ski out.”
Denise Karbon was also one of the 12 racers to ski off-course in the first run while Manuela Moelgg joined Brignone on the DNF list in the second.
With a few wild turns in her second run, reigning World Cup overall champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch finished 24th Saturday.
The Audi FIS women's World Cup continues 12 Nov with slalom in Levi, Finland.
by Shauna Farnell/ firstname.lastname@example.org