The World Cup tour awoke for the second day of downhill racing in the iconic Swiss resort of adjoining villages known as Crans-Montana on Saturday. The women’s speed circuit had accumulated a record-breaking streak of 11 different downhill winners in a row including Lara Gut-Behrami’s victory on Friday. But the last athlete to contribute to the tally would also be the one to break it. Just like one day earlier, Corinne Suter would find herself in the runner-up position to her compatriot Gut-Behrami but with much more to celebrate than just another podium added to her career-best season.
Tackling a repeat of the same course they raced the day before, all athletes were gunning to improve upon their times and results. Warming temperatures and a shallower overnight freeze contributed to a slower track, and the leading Swiss athletes were once again the only ones in the field who could crack the 1:28.00 mark.
Suter was the third starter out of the gate, and she was aggressive from the very beginning. Her top sections were more dialed in than they had been on Friday, and she showed her focus and confidence all the way down to La Traverse de Clavan. But her drifting line across the hill on the last sweeping turn demanded a correction to maintain the necessary elevation on the final pitch, costing her the race win after leading by 0.26 seconds through the last intermediate.
All eyes were then on Gut-Behrami with bib 17, one position earlier than her start on Friday, to see if she could once again bump Suter into second place despite progressively slowing conditions on the exposed final pitch. Although her early turns were less precise than the day before, the Swiss superstar entered the first jump from a wider angle than her competitors and tightened the turn upon landing to gain a 0.12-second advantage over Suter. Though she fell behind by more than double that with little real estate remaining, clean turns and a tight, low tuck off the last jump enabled her to squeak out the victory by a slim 0.02 seconds.
“Yesterday I was in the flow from the top to finish. Today it was a little bit more complicated. The snow was a little bit softer, and I was struggling a few times with comparing the feeling I’ve had during this season. I didn’t trust myself 100 percent just to push. Sometimes I was a little bit too light on my turns. I’m happy anyway even if it wasn’t perfect or how I wanted it in my mind. I was happy to push and take risks,” concluded Gut-Behrami who felt like she conquered her fears over the past two days. “Even if I made mistakes, I was just pushing forward. I mean, I won the race on the last three turns just because I didn’t give up and I tried to be fast and win meters from the top to the finish.”
Swiss fans who waited 39 years to see one of their female downhillers win in Crans-Montana were rewarded with the repeat performance just 24 hours later. Perhaps even more significant, however, was the fact that Suter claimed the outright lead in the downhill season standings with one race still to go. It is the first discipline title for Suter and the first downhill globe for a Swiss woman since Chantal Bournissen hoisted it at the conclusion of the 1990/91 season.
“I don’t realize it at the moment, I think. There are so many people and I’m just happy to celebrate it with my family and friends now who were watching today and cheering for me. Also, the pressure is away from me now so I can sleep a little bit more,” admitted Suter. “There are a lot of things where I made a step forward, I think. For example, with my training – my summer training was better. With my coaches, it was one-to-one. So I did also a good job with them and also a lot of work with my head.”
The Austrian camp also claimed third place for the second day in a row, though Stephanie Venier was replaced on the podium by Nina Ortlieb. Ortlieb, the daughter of downhill Olympic gold medalist and world champion Patrick Ortlieb, recorded the fastest time in Thursday’s training run and had been building steadily toward this career-first podium finish. With a fourth-place finish in Lake Louise at the start of the season and five top-10 results, she had shown solid consistency in reaching her next career goal.
Only 0.05 seconds from the win, Ortlieb was in touch with the Swiss speedsters all the way to the finish line.
“I’m really happy that I finally managed to do a good run from the start to the bottom. I tried to ski very fast but also with little tactics at some turns. Everybody worked really well – everybody on the slope. I’m really thankful that I could get the chance with bib 20 with these warm temperatures. It was perfect to race,” Ortlieb said gratefully. “It showed me that I’m working on the important things and I’m improving every day, that’s really good, and I would like to stay there more often.”
After finishing fifth in Friday’s race, Breezy Johnson of the U.S. Ski Team was gunning for the podium with pure determination. Trailing the leader by just 0.10 seconds, she aimed herself a bit too directly off the second jump and landed off-line with no chance to make the next turning gate. Alice McKennis recorded the top finish for North Americans in 16th followed by her teammate Alice Merryweather in 20th and Canada’s Marie-Michele Gagnon in 22nd.
Austrian rising talent Elisabeth Reisinger, who was transported from the slope by helicopter after crashing in Friday’s race, was diagnosed with a season-ending ACL tear in her left knee at the nearby hospital in Sion. She returned home on Friday and will undergo surgery in the coming days.
The women will contest an alpine combined in Crans-Montana on Sunday with a morning super-G run followed by a single run of slalom in the afternoon.
- Lara Gut-Behrami (SUI): 1:27.73
- Corinne Suter (SUI): +0.02
- Nina Ortlieb (AUT): +0.05
- Federica Brignone (ITA): +0.35
- Ester Ledecka (CZE): +0.39
- Stephanie Venier (AUT): +0.59
- Nicole Schmidhofer (AUT): +0.62
- Marta Bassino (ITA): +0.66
- Romane Miradoli (FRA): +0.71
- Nicol Delago (ITA): +0.76