Two unfamiliar names topped the podium in the women’s debut of parallel giant slalom at Sestriere, Italy, on Sunday, after innumerable pre-race favorites were eliminated early and a discrepancy in the dual courses became evident. Clara Direz of France edged out Austrian Elisa Moerzinger – competing in only her fifth World Cup ever and the first time finishing – in the big final by 0.22 seconds.
Direz is in the midst of a breakout season on the World Cup tour. Prior to Sunday, she had skied a career-best seventh in the Lienz giant slalom at the end of December to add to two other top-15 results. But the leap to the podium and her first win certainly did not appear predestined from the 16th-fastest qualification round finish. If anything, a draw against Mikaela Shiffrin in the Round of 16 seemed as if it had sealed Direz’s fate of elimination early on. But that was not the case.
“No one was expecting something from this because it was the first one. But yeah, we trained a lot and I was pretty fast between the other girls. So I was like, ok, I can do something. I will try my best, and we’ll see what’s coming,” Direz said of her unexpected victory. “I don’t know if it’s really fair or not. I was lucky today because I was always on the blue course for the last runs, so I was a little bit lucky. I won’t complain about that. I’m pretty happy about my first World Cup win today, so I won’t say something bad about it.”
So new to the circuit that she does not even have a headshot in the television production system, Moerzinger was one to keep an eye on for advancement to the quarterfinals after her morning qualification in 10th position. Despite no prior World Cup finishes to her name, she has been steadily building results on the European Cup with three podium finishes and one victory in GS this season. Nobody expected the 52nd ranked giant slalom skier in the world to land on the podium in this parallel format debut, but she battled through big names to get there.
“It’s my fifth World Cup race and first time that I’ve made some points, so second place is amazing,” said Moerzinger. “I just tried to focus on myself and on my skiing during the whole race. It definitely paid off.”
The Italian team still gave the crowd a rouse by finishing third, fourth, and fifth with Marta Bassino, Federica Brignone, and Sofia Goggia rounding out the top of the leaderboard, respectively.
The parallel course was disappointingly straightforward with the majority of turns 19-20 meters apart. Unlike the men’s stop at Alta Badia where jumps and terrain come into play, Sestriere had no special features for the women to navigate. Each dual course was skied by the 57 athletes in the qualifier, so visible ruts developed in different spots on each and the top of the red course appeared to slick up a bit more than its counterpart. The most problematic area for single-run heats was in the final five gates to the finish where the blue course ran noticeably straighter than the red. The vast majority of athletes on the red course who held an advantage heading into the final handful of turns were handily passed by their competitors at the finish line.
In parallel races, the previous years’ rule of the better ranked athlete choosing their course for single-run heats has been replaced by a draw. Beginning with the single-run elimination Round of 16 and continuing through the Big Final in Sestriere, randomly drawing the blue course presented a clear advantage. Seventeen of the faster finishes came on the blue course with only three head-to-head wins (by Direz, Bassino, and Goggia) on the red.
Shiffrin, a pre-race favorite who had the fastest qualification time of all by 0.27 seconds, was knocked out by Direz in the Round of 16 without any major mistakes and ultimately finished in ninth. She remained upbeat about the excitement of the format but referred to it as “a work in progress to make the event the best it can be,” from the unusual position of spectating during the final heats.
“This is the first parallel GS that we’ve had, and it is fun. I think I like the parallel GS actually more than the parallel slalom. But it’s a little bit difficult. I think there’s still a lot of work we have to do and FIS has to do to really make the race as even as it can be,” Shiffrin said.
“You can see there’s always a faster course, but today it’s like they’re not even the same course at all. Especially in the last four or five gates on the blue course, you can even see looking up the hill that it’s straighter than the red course,” Shiffrin added. “If you’re on the blue course, even if you’re behind on the middle section you can make up speed on the flat. In the red course, if you get to the flat and you don’t have all the speed, then you’re going to have a tough time to make that up. It’s for sure possible, but you have to have all the risk, really clean skiing, perfectly precise with no mistakes, and then also hope that the person in the blue course is going to make a mistake to have a chance. That’s a tough thing to swallow. I don’t normally talk about luck playing a role in the results … but today I would say it’s a day where luck really plays a role.”
. @fisalpine if you can t figure out how to set two exact same courses at least give the faster skiers in qualies the reward to pick the course that be more than fair. This is ridiculous. @MikaelaShiffrin and @WendyHoldener the fastest from qualies clearly got s….#notfair— kilian albrecht (@kilianalbrecht) January 19, 2020
Shiffrin was followed closely behind by teammate Nina O’Brien in 11th place for a career-best finish. O’Brien was impressively fast in qualifying and overcame a 0.44-second deficit in the Round of 32 to advance over Katharina Huber of Austria. She was ever so narrowly beaten out in the Round of 16 by Tina Robnik whose reach across the line proved to be 0.01 seconds quicker than O’Brien’s.
Aline Danioth of Switzerland was another giant killer who surprisingly beat out Petra Vlhova in the Round of 32. But she crashed against Brignone in the Round of 16 and had to be transported from the slope in a sled by the ski patrol. Danioth is being evaluated for a possible injury to her right leg which would be a great disappointment for the tech skier on the verge of her best-ever season.
The women’s World Cup next heads to Bansko, Bulgaria, where the speed skiers are back in action for two downhill races (including the Val d’Isere replacement) and one super-G from January 24-26, 2020.
Top-10 – Women’s Parallel GS, Sestriere, Italy
- Clara Direz (FRA)
- Elisa Moerzinger (AUT)
- Marta Bassino (ITA)
- Federica Brignone (ITA)
- Sofia Goggia (ITA)
- Kristin Lysdahl (NOR)
- Thea Louise Stjernesund (NOR)
- Tina Robnik (SLO)
- Mikaela Shiffrin (USA)
- Wendy Holdener (SUI)
For complete results, click here.