Nicole Schmidhofer stole the victory once again in Lake Louise on Saturday, sweeping the weekend’s downhill with the best runs of her career. Yesterday was Schmidhofer’s first win in the downhill since she entered the World Cup speed circuit back in 2010. Although the 29-year-old is not new to the podium in speed events, two consecutive wins is a welcome surprise.
“I think it’s one of the best ski days in my life,” she said. “I’m really excited and happy and surprised I could win also the second race. It will also be a great race tomorrow, it doesn’t matter what [my] position will be because two wins are so great for me.”
Her teammate, Cornelia Huetter followed 0.44 seconds behind in second, just barely pulling ahead of third place finisher, Michelle Gisin, by three hundredths of a second. Gisin had been the second place finisher on Friday.
Huetter had seen the podium in Lake Louise before. In 2015, she placed 2nd and 3rd in the downhill, in 2017 she won. This year, she had to fight to make it into the top three after a disappointing 10th on Friday. On Saturday, she changed everything, including her boots, skis, and technician, hoping to break onto the podium.
“We said that we have to go all in and it was good that we tried to change it, it was a good decision. It was smoother than yesterday, I felt more of the speed and I tried to push forward, and it was easier,” she said.
The Austrians seemed to be benefitting from a new coaching staff, with four other racers outside of the top three breaking into the top 15, almost as many as on Friday. Ramona Siebenhofer moved into sixth place, Stephanie Venier was ninth, Christine Scheyer took 13th, and Anna Veith took 15th. Every woman on the Austrian speed team was in the top 30.
“It’s something new, a new way to see how we ski and that’s nice. We feel self-confident and try to push, I think we have a good team,” says Huetter.
Gisin continues to be surprised by her success in speed. In the weeks leading up to the start of the season and during the early portion of the tech circuit, the Swiss native has been working with a mental coach to help keep her focused as she tries to juggle competing in five disciplines.
“It’s great to start the season with two podiums in the downhill this year, it’s almost too good to be true,” she said. “I’ve worked a lot with my mental coach the last couple of weeks, the last couple of years, to really be on and off, to have race mode switched on and off. Because if I’m competing in so many races, that’s the most important thing. I think it’s working really well right now and I hope that I can take the flow with me.”
Gisin attributes her success to last season’s gold medal win in the Alpine Combined in PyeongChang, noting that her victory has been a game changer for her mentally coming into the 2018/19 season.
“The title of the Olympic games gives me so much confidence,” she said. “That’s a lifetime goal, that’s insane that I could achieve this and nobody can ever take that away from me. Everything I do now is just a bonus, and I try to have the most fun I can skiing and not worry if a race doesn’t work out.”
The Italian speed women also had strong performances today. Nicole Delago had a career-best in the downhill with her fifth place finish after starting bib 23. Nadia Fanchini also broke into the top 10 in seventh place, followed by Federica Brignone in 16th.
The American Alice Merryweather once again broke into the top 30, besting her Friday run, and finishing in 21st overall. Both of her runs in the downhill this weekend are the best times she’s put down in the World Cup downhill.
“These results have given me a lot of confidence and I know that I can put it in there with all these girls, so I’m just looking forward to even improving on today,” she said.
Mikaela Shiffrin bettered her previous performance in the downhill on Saturday, finishing in fourth after a hard fought race. In the middle section of the course, Shiffrin lost a lot of speed, but found a way to make it up in order to finish just off the podium.
“I’m pretty psyched with today,” she said. “Yesterday I felt pretty, well, a little bit disconnected and not really attacking as much as I like, but I think today was a really big step in the right direction and I felt good on my skis… Tomorrow’s super g and I’m going to try and switch gears to super g, then we go over to Europe and dive right into the rest of the season, so I can’t dwell on it too much.”
Even though she will be walking away from the downhill without another trophy to add to her collection, Shiffrin’s focus moving forward is on performing well for the rest of the season and showing up for her fans. After her runs, the American spent a majority of her time in the finish signing gloves, helmets, and goggles, taking pictures with as many fans as she can. Out of all of the athletes competing this speed weekend, she showed the most dedication to the little girl’s on the sideline repeatedly chanting her name.
“It’s always amazing to see a group of kids that’s excited…but every now and then, there’s a few kids that say something to me that really resonates, like ‘you got me into ski racing’ or ‘I’m so inspired by your Olympic success’ or something like that that I think ‘wow, I didn’t know I could have an impact like that on somebody’ even though my idols had that impact on me.”
After walking away from her interview with Ski Racing, another fan shouted to her, saying that she watches Shiffrin ski every time before she races and every time before she trains. She does so for motivation, saying that Shiffrin taught her to be fearless.
With that, Shiffrin turned and said, “This is what I’m talking about. That, is why I ski race.”
On Sunday the women will compete in the final event of the weekend, the super g at 11:00 am MST.
- Nicole Schmidhofer (AUT): 1.47.68 – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Cornelia Huetter (AUT): +0.44 – Head/Head/Head
- Michelle Gisin (SUI): +0.47 – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Mikaela Shiffrin (USA): +0.63 – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Nicol Delago (ITA): +0.73 – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Ramona Siebenhofer (AUT): +0.84 – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Nadia Fanchini (ITA): +0.95 – Dynastar/Lange
- Corinne Suter (SUI): +1.28 – Head/Head/Head
- Stephanie Venier (AUT): +1.39 – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Ester Ledecka (CZE): +1.43 – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
For full race results, click here.