The women’s World Cup tour arrived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, for its third speed weekend in a row on the heels of a devastating weather system that caused flooding throughout Central Europe and brought heavy snowfall and high winds to Bavaria. Storm depression Petra left race organizers with a monumental task to prepare the Kandahar track and replace damaged A- and B-nets in time for the women’s races.
The crunch meant that only one training run was held prior to Saturday’s downhill. But when the women finally had the opportunity to push out of the start, the course was in impeccable condition. And after racing on less familiar slopes in Bansko and Rosa Khutor, many athletes welcomed the return to the recognizably traditional downhill course.
No one welcomed the trip to Bavaria quite as much as Viktoria Rebensburg, who was returning home. Hailing from nearby Kreuth, she was inspired by her compatriot Thomas Dressen’s stunning performance one week earlier when he won the men’s downhill in his hometown and put an end to a 28-year dry spell for German victors on the track. After posting the second-fastest training run on Friday, Rebensburg had a sneaking suspicion she could potentially rise to the occasion as well.
“Thomas Dressen showed last week that it is one of the nicest things to cheer on the podium in front of your home crowd,” Rebensburg remarked to the press on Friday after her training run. “The anticipation is huge – finally a home race.”
Rebensburg didn’t exactly enter the Garmisch weekend brimming with confidence. The Olympic gold medalist in giant slalom and 18-time World Cup winner had never claimed victory in a downhill race nor had she reached the podium since her season-opening super-G win in Lake Louise. Despite collecting one fourth-place and two seventh-place GS results this winter, her own federation was questioning what it would take for her to return to the podium in giant slalom. Alpine Director Wolfgang Maier went so far as to publicly state that he believed her training intensity and scope was insufficient to produce podium results in her signature discipline, and Rebensburg felt this criticism, both in content and delivery, particularly hard.
With her preparation in doubt and her results falling shy of her potential, Rebensburg put on a downhill clinic on the Kandahar – distancing herself from everyone through the especially tricky turns in the Boedele and Eishang sections. She pumped her fists in the air and took a well-deserved bow to the roaring cheers of the finish stadium crowd after posting a blazing time of 1:41.94, almost three seconds faster than her training run.
“That was crazy,” she said of her win. “It was important for me to just stay true to myself and focus on my skiing.”
The victory marked the first win for a German woman in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in nearly 10 years, since Maria Hoefl-Riesch won the downhill at the site on March 10, 2010.
Rebensburg didn’t realize while skiing how well she had done because, as she said, it felt almost too easy. “But my skis were amazing,” she added.
Although Federica Brignone skied through the middle sections and ignited the lower turns in FIS-Schneise and Tauberschuss, a mistake up top meant she simply did not have the speed that Rebensburg was able to conserve at the most critical points. The Italian finished 0.61 seconds back for second place and her fourth podium in the last five races.
“Today was a real downhill, and I’m really happy with how I skied,” remarked Brignone. “I tried to push hard. I knew I had [made] a mistake on the top, but I was quick. I gave my best, and I’m satisfied. Today, Rebensburg was unbeatable.”
The tour’s favorite speed spoiler, Olympic super-G gold medalist Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic, mounted a noteworthy charge from bib 15. Only 0.16-seconds off Rebensburg’s pace at the third intermediate, the finish area collectively gritted its teeth. A little wild in spots but markedly fast and skiing without fear, Ledecka crossed the line for third place at 0.83 seconds back. It was the second World Cup podium of her career after she won the Lake Louise downhill in early December.
The multi-sport talent continues to strategically juggle an aggressive training and competition schedule across two sports, and she has two World Cup snowboard podium finishes from parallel racing this winter as well. She joked the secret to her success in the Garmisch downhill, in addition to switching back and forth between sports, might have been her breakfast.
“I had scrambled eggs, which they didn’t have actually in Bulgaria, so that was the main point,” Ledecka said with a chuckle. “I think I have improved in my skiing since last season. My team has done an amazing job, and I feel quite happy and confident on skis. … The basics are pretty much the same. You go down a hill as fast as you can, only you have different equipment. So far, this kind of strategy works for me.”
Breezy Johnson and Alice Merryweather continued their solid points-scoring performances for the U.S. Ski Team by finishing in 17th and 19th places, respectively. Although she did not finish inside the top 30, Jackie Wiles shook off some demons by finishing the downhill race on the very same track where she suffered an injury in 2018 that sidelined her for over a year.
Less fortunate was Nathalie Groebli of Switzerland who suffered a season-ending injury in a crash on the bottom section of the track during downhill training on Friday, sustaining an open tibia-fibula fracture in her left leg. She was transported to the hospital in Garmisch-Partenkirchen via helicopter and underwent immediate surgery. Thankfully, there were no big crashes or injuries during Saturday’s race.
The women will compete in super-G on a course set by Italian coach Giovanni Feltrin down the same slope on Sunday.
Top 10, women’s downhill, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Feb. 8
- Viktoria Rebensburg (GER): 1:41.94
- Federica Brignone (ITA): +0.61
- Ester Ledecka (CZE): +0.83
- Sofia Goggia (ITA): +0.95
- Corinne Suter (SUI): +0.98
- Ilka Stuhec (SLO): +1.52
- Joana Haehlen (SUI): +1.63
- Petra Vlhova (SVK): +1.74
- Francesca Marsaglia (ITA): +1.77
- Elisabeth Reisinger (AUT): +1.80