The second downhill race in Bansko, Bulgaria, definitively reminded fans that the women’s World Cup tour this season belongs to the Italian team. The rest of us are just living in it. Elena Curtoni, Marta Bassino, and Federica Brignone completed the first speed podium sweep for their country since the memorable Bad Kleinkircheim downhill in 2018. For Curtoni, it was a career-first victory and first podium appearance in nearly three years.
The light on the bumpy and turny Marc Girardelli track was again a concern for early starters as it had been on Friday, but race officials pushed the start time 30 minutes later than originally scheduled in an effort to “help ensure fair and optimal conditions for all athletes.” Despite the slightly later start time, athletes with higher bibs who managed to take full advantage of improving light conditions over the course of the race had the opportunity to deliver career-best performances.
Giant slalom ace Bassino was the fourth athlete to push out of the start, and her light and fluid navigation combined with an easy touch on the edges helped her carve cleanly through the most difficult sections that ran slightly faster than on Friday. Unfazed by the bumps between each swinging turn, she pushed her technical skills to the limit to hold the early lead. The closest competition in the top seed came from her own teammate, Brignone, who was fresh off a podium finish from the day before.
Brignone’s run was on the very limit, and she nearly crashed out on more than one occasion. The all-arounder got caught sitting back on the tails of her skis through Yellow Bar and had her skis collide with one another on a right-footer through Tomba. A series of athletic recoveries while running it out as much as the set allowed put her a slim 0.04 seconds from Bassino’s time. The teammates embraced in the leader box with a sense that they would have good reason to celebrate that evening.
“Today I had a big mistake, but that’s how it works. This is sport,” acknowledged Brignone. “Too many strong Italians – they were faster than me. So this is amazing, to share the podium with these two girls. They are amazing skiers. … We were top five yesterday and we’re top three today, the three of us. So I think it’s amazing, and sharing the podium with your teammates is just unbelievable. It’s a great emotion for all of us.”
Curtoni put the icing on the cake from bib 28. After finishing in fourth place the day before with improving light, she knew she had a legitimate shot to improve on Saturday. Staying compact on the upper sections of the hill, she ran a low line but made precise turns where it mattered most from Yellow Bar through Tomba. It paid off with a 0.10-second advantage over Bassino and the fastest time of the day at 1:29.31. Curtoni raised two fists in the air and shouted “Si!” in the finish area after seeing the green light.
“I felt so low in the line, and I felt I was losing speed. I was just thinking to push every turn,” said Curtoni after the win. “I changed nothing. Yesterday worked, I ended up fourth. So I think I had a good approach to this slope … you have to attack the whole way down. Already yesterday I did that. And today, I did it even better.”
The day was an emotional one for Curtoni who suffered a fractured ankle just after her last World Cup podium in 2017 and then tore a knee ligament shortly after that which sidelined her for over a year between 2017-18. Since her return, it’s been a comeback tale of gradual improvement.
Bassino, better known for her giant slalom prowess, picked up the first speed podium of her career, admitting, “I started with a great season this year, [but] I couldn’t imagine to make the podium today in downhill.” She showed signs of potential with top-three finishes in alpine combined before, most recently two weeks earlier in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, where Curtoni finished fifth on the way to her breakout performance in Bansko.
Mikaela Shiffrin came closest to bumping the Italians from their perch with a fourth-place finish to follow up her win from the day before. Though her time on Saturday was faster than Friday’s, she was just a bit too hesitant to catch the Italians’ charge.
“I felt even a little bit more nervous today, I’m not totally sure why. But I felt like my plan was really good. I was trying to be aggressive again, and I had pretty much the same visibility as I did yesterday,” said Shiffrin. “I thought I could do a strong run again. So I was aggressive, but I wasn’t risking everything and trying to just be strong. … With a win yesterday and holding onto a fourth today, that’s pretty incredible to come here,” she continued. “This is already beyond what I really dreamed about.”
She was full of praise for her teammate Breezy Johnson who finished in fifth place in only her third race following a long injury hiatus. Johnson was calculated and solid in her approach, pushing for speed every chance she had while respecting the turn shape required to hold the line. She was followed in the points by Alice Merryweather in 26th, the only other American to score on the day.
“I’m so glad that I can come to place like this where it’s bumpy and it’s tough and you really have to stand on your outside ski, and I have like zero thoughts of oh, I can’t trust it at all. I’m just so grateful to have my body and to feel like my body is in line with my goals right now,” remarked Johnson. “Everybody’s been so supportive with the comeback.”
She noted that hearing from other injured World Cup athletes, like Austria’s Stefanie Brunner who tore her ACL for the third time over the summer, provided inspiration on her return to the top. Now she is serving as an inspiration for all others.
The women’s tour will contest a final race in Bansko on Sunday with super-G starting at 9:15 a.m. CET.
Top 10, Women’s Downhill, Bansko, Bulgaria, Jan. 25
- Elena Curtoni (ITA): 1:29.31
- Marta Bassino (ITA): +0.10
- Federica Brignone (ITA): +0.14
- Mikaela Shiffrin (USA): +0.35
- Breezy Johnson (USA): +0.47
- Kira Weidle (GER): +0.62
- Elisabeth Reisinger (AUT): +0.65
- Nina Ortlieb (AUT): +0.82
- Corinne Suter (SUI): +1.02
- Lara Gut-Behrami (SUI): +1.21
For complete results, click here.