Smith and Oehling Norberg take wins in first of back-to-back Arosa competitions
AROSA, SUI – The first of two back-to-back races in stunningly beautiful Arosa, Switzerland, went down on Friday afternoon, with local hero Fanny Smith (SUI) thrilling the crowd with victory in the ladies' race and last year's crystal globe winner Victor Oehling Norberg (SWE) climbing back to the top of the podium for the first time in 2014/15 in the men's race.
In the ladies' competition, an injury-depleted field ensured that we would see an athlete win for the first time this season, as Marielle Thompson (CAN), winner of the first three races of 2014/15, is done until next year after injuring her meniscus at the Kreischberg 2015 World Championships.
With top-ranked Thompson and her second-ranked teammate Georgia Simmerling both on the shelf, the door in Arosa was open for one of the other ladies to step up and make a statement, and on home soil, in a stacked final heat, Fanny Smith was able to do just that.
Smith qualified second for Friday's finals, behind Anna Holmlund (SWE) and just ahead of Ophelie David (FRA), and when it came time for Friday's big finals it was no surprise to see all three of those athletes in the start gate, with last years Arosa champion Marte Hoeie Gjefsen (NOR) rounding out the heat.
Out of the gate it was Holmlund powering her way to the front of the pack through the technical start section, followed by David and an unusually slow-starting Smith, with Gjefsen pushed to fourth on the outside and unable to grab a fast line.
While Smith started slowly, her fast skis and quick line selection saw her pass David through the middle and gain ground on Holmlund right up to the final corner, where Smith ducked inside and picked up speed through the final jump to edge her Swedish competitor right at the line.
In the finish area Holmlund was visibly disappointed at letting the victory slip away, though her second-place performance did move her into second on the ski cross World Cup leader board. For David, it was her second-straight third place finish, while for Gjefsen, the fourth-place result was her best since her victory on the same slope last season.
With the win, Smith moved into third on the World Cup leader board, just behind Holmlund.
“I was just thinking that I wanted to win in my homeland,” said Smith on her last-second pass on Holmlund, “My start was really bad, but I knew that I had really fast skis and I just put everything into my technique so that I could pass Anna on the last jump.”
The men's competition saw good passing opportunities hard to come by, with incredibly tight competition from the previous day's qualifications (where the top 20 athletes were separated by less than a second) through every one of Friday's heats. A bad start in a heat meant a skier would be relying on the mistakes of others to make up ground or see their day ended, and several top athletes, including top qualifier Anton Grimus (AUS), found that out the hard way.
This lead to something of a surprising big final lineup, with top skiers Victor Oehling Norberg (SWE) and Daniel Bohnacker (GER) paired up against two athletes who had skied excellently but had only one career World Cup podium between them – Sergey Ridzik (RUS) and Bastien Midol (FRA).
As had been the case all day, Oehling Norberg looked supremely focused and confident as he jumped out to a quick lead that no other skier would be able to challenge. Behind him, Midol and Ridzik were locked in a neck-and-neck battle that would last through the top half of the course, before Redzik made a strong move over the second of the “twin kickers” to move into second.
At the line, Midol would make one more desperate reach, but Ridzik would hold on to the position for his first career podium and the first podium for the Russian team this season. Bohnacker would be forced to settle for fourth.
“I knew I was skiing really fast,” said Oehling Norberg on his win, “Coming in here from Kreischeberg with the bronze medal and I knew I was skiing well, and now to be back on top again just feels awesome.”
With his win, Oehling Norberg moved into top spot on the men's World Cup ski cross leaderboard, with a 38 point lead over Andreas Schauer (GER).