The women’s World Cup returned on Friday to Crans-Montana, Switzerland, for the first time since last season’s controversial race where warming conditions created inconsistencies in the finish line timing and the results were amended three days later. The tour shooed aside those ghosts as blue skies and cold morning temperatures greeted racers for the first of two downhills at the site.
In Friday’s race, which was rescheduled from the Rosa Khutor cancellation earlier in the month, Lara Gut-Behrami led the Swiss charge by claiming her 25th career World Cup win and her first since 2018 ahead of teammate Corinne Suter. Stephanie Venier of Austria completed the podium in third for her first trip to the flower ceremony since the season opener in Lake Louise.
Suter looked to have the win in her back pocket following a run that signified the fine balance between risk and reward. She was slated to become the first Swiss woman to win a World Cup downhill race in front of the home crowd in Crans-Montana since Marie-Theres Nadig’s victory in 1981. The Swiss win was long overdue, but the honor would go to Gut-Behrami who came flowing down the course in bib 18 and steadily built on her lead at every intermediate along the way.
Extra slipping and salting during television breaks by the course crew helped preserve the typically dicey conditions on the final pitch as the snow tends to bake in the direct sunlight there. Top athletes nearly always select early bibs in Crans-Montana for this reason, but Gut-Behrami did not have the benefit of choice due to her ranking.
Tight in her compact tuck, the Swiss superstar crossed the finish line with a time of 1:25.11, a green light, and a sizeable 0.80 second margin of victory – shaving nearly two seconds off the leading time in the only training run on course the previous day.
“It was easy, finally, I was able to ski the way I wanted,” admitted Gut-Behrami. “I wasn’t thinking. So I always say in my career that when I am thinking, I am slow. This has been happening almost the entire season. Today, I was just skiing and this makes me fast. I wasn’t thinking it would be that fast. But sometimes in the end skiing can be so complicated and sometimes you just get the feeling back and it fits so easy.
“If I look at the past, some of my wins are like that,” she added. “If I win, I clearly win. Or if not, I’m like 10th or 15th. My first win in St. Moritz was about seven-tenths, my first win in GS was about seven-tenths again, and then I won in La Thuile by more than one second. If I’m in the flow, if I can find the feeling from the top, I can be really, really fast.”
Suter didn’t leave without a lead of her own as she maintained the top spot in the downhill season standings and practically doubled the points spread from 61 to 120 with only two races remaining on the schedule. The first of those two races is on Saturday, where she has a chance to claim the small globe outright even before the final race of the year.
“I’m super happy with my second place today. The run was medium. I had two or three mistakes, but the next chance is already tomorrow. So I’ll try to improve myself,” said Suter. “Normally I’m not that nervous before I’m starting, but today was a bit different. I heard many people. My friends, my family is here. Then I wanted to do it better and always faster.”
Venier, meanwhile, was rewarded for her gutsy line with a third-place finish to match her season best from the start of the winter.
“I like Crans-Montana. It’s my second podium here. The first was in super-G three years ago. I like the slope, and I like the people,” Venier remarked. “For me it was a really good race. The upper part was really good [but] the finish part was not that good … but I’ve got the speed and the third place is really good for me.”
Petra Vlhova of Slovakia just missed out on the downhill podium with a fourth-place finish following her run where it was evident she is still gaining confidence on the longer skis. Although she was fast through the sweeping turns on the hill, she launched off balance down the second jump and had to snowplow upon landing in order to make the next gate.
On the steady and impressive return from injury, the U.S. Ski Team’s Breezy Johnson tied her season-best finish of fifth with a clean and smooth run down the majority of the course. She was also gunning for a podium result when she had to throw her skis sideways in a hard line correction on the final pitch with the finish in sight. Her noble efforts leave American fans in great anticipation of Saturday’s race when she’ll have another crack at the same course.
“I am just so grateful to be back and I’m just trying to take advantage of every moment and not let anything slip through my fingers,” said Johnson of her return from injury, noting that she watched races last season when she was out and studied where and how she could be faster in certain areas on the speed tracks. “I felt like I skied pretty well and then I came into the bottom pitch and the snow was a little peely down there. I didn’t quite get the direction that I needed coming out of the triple coming onto the last face. And then the snow just kind of peeled away from me. My skis did some weird things. I don’t know if my tips crossed – maybe – it definitely felt weird with my skis. I was so backseat that I was just like, ‘You have to make that gate’. … There’s definitely some things to clean up and hopefully, maybe I can get that green light one of these days here.”
Other North Americans who picked up points in the race include Canadians Marie-Michele Gagnon and Roni Remmi in 23rd and 25th and Americans Alice McKennis and Alice Merryweather in 24th and 29th, respectively.
Mikaela Shiffrin, who is not racing this weekend in Crans-Montana, retains the lead of the Overall standings by 77 points ahead of Federica Brignone.
Despite much to celebrate with Venier’s podium, there was also devastation in the Austrian squad as rising talent Elisabeth Reisinger crashed hard after landing from the top jump and slid into the safety nets. She was sitting upright but could be heard screaming in pain before medical personnel reached her. Reisinger was evacuated from the slope using a long-line helicopter and was transported to the local hospital for evaluation of a suspected knee injury.
Top-10, women’s downhill, Crans-Montana, Friday Feb. 21
- 1. Lara Gut-Behrami (SUI): 1:27.11
- 2. Corinne Suter (SUI): +0.80
- 3. Stephanie Venier (AUT): +0.92
- 4. Petra Vlhova (SVK): +1.08
- 5. Breezy Johnson (USA): +1.26
- 6. Nina Ortlieb (AUT): +1.32
- 7. Joana Haehlen (SUI): +1.35
- 7. Federica Brignone (ITA): +1.35
- 9. Marta Bassino (ITA): +1.36
- 10 Elena Curtoni (ITA): +1.37