Friday was a day of many firsts in the season opener of the women’s speed events in Lake Louise. Coming off of a tech weekend in Killington, Vermont where the crowds stunned and the press was overwhelming, the speed weekend in Lake Louise feels much more relaxed. Despite the lack of crowded stands and finish corrals, the women in speed charged hard in the first downhill of the season to make the race an eventful one.
Nicole Schmidhofer led the Austrian team at the top of the podium, earning her first ever World Cup victory in the downhill since her debut back in 2010. Her teammate, Stephanie Venier, finished 0.07 seconds outside of the podium in 4th followed by Christine Scheyer (8th), Cornelia Huetter (10th), Anna Veith (11th), Ramona Siebenhofer ( 13th), and Nina Ortlieb (15th).
“For me in the downhill, it was very hard for the last years here, my best place was I think 18th place. It’s a little bit surprising to me to be first when it’s a downhill race in Lake Louise,” Schmidhofer said smiling after the race.
Not only was Schmidhofer excited to start her season off with a win, but she was also happy to experience success alongside her teammates who have been working hard to be one of the top women’s speed teams in the world.
“The feeling in the group is pretty good with the new coaches and I think we had a great fall pattern,” she explained. “Everything we’ve fought for from three to one year ago, we now know that everything is really good in the group and this is the result of it.”
The Lake Louise downhill also marked the first podium for German athlete, Kira Weidle, who finished third. The 22-year-old won her training run on Wednesday, and finished third in Thursday’s training, yet still did not expect to do so well on race day, given that she has been fighting to break onto the podium since her first World Cup start in 2016.
“I didn’t expect a podium, that was really surprising to me. It’s my first podium ever, so I think that’s a perfect season start,” she said. “I was really confident after the trainings, but the race is always different than training and you really have to focus on the things that didn’t work so well, and I was really happy that I could manage it in the race.”
Michelle Gisin of Switzerland, who has also been competing in the slalom and giant slalom races in the early season, was happy to make the podium despite her lack of speed training. Her podium on Friday marks her career best at the venue, after taking third on the podium in Lake Louise last season.
“I was on the tour giant slalom skiing, slalom skiing all of the time for the last couple of weeks and I didn’t know how I would deal with the speed because here it’s a lot of speed. To go downhill over 130 kilometers per hour is fast,” she said laughing. “I’m super glad I got comfortable again with it so fast and so quickly and it was a really cool race today. I dared and I took all the courage I had to push it.”
The women’s speed circuit also welcomed back Slovenian Ilka Stuhec this weekend, who is seeing her first World Cup start in 20 months since experiencing a severe knee injury in October 2017, which sidelined her for an entire season. Stuhec had been coming off what most would consider a breakout season. Not only was she the Overall runner-up in 2017, she also won the crystal globe in the overall downhill and alpine combined that season after claiming victory in seven speed events, two of which were the downhills in Lake Louise.
“This year I’m definitely feeling better than last year at this time,” she explained after her third training run on Thursday. “But, yea, it was a really big hit that after a season like that I injured my knee, but it’s a part of our sport sadly and I just said ‘okay, I’ll repair this like so many times before and I’ll be back’.”
At the end of the day, Stuhec finished sixth in her comeback race, sliding into the finish corral cheering with a giant smile plastered to her face. Although it wasn’t a podium, Stuhec was just excited to be back on the track.
“It felt good. I know there are still a few parts that I could ski better. But I have to say after such a long time and everything [that has been] going on lately, I’m satisfied with today. Everything was happening a little bit faster, it’s race day, it’s supposed to…but it felt good and I’m really looking forward to another downhill race tomorrow.”
The Americans also experienced a first at Lake Louise on Friday when 22-year-old Alice Merryweather earned her first World Cup downhill points after finishing in 27th, just two-hundredths of a second behind her teammate, Laurenne Ross. Mikaela Shiffrin had finished ninth.
After her run Merryweather was all smiles, stunned that she was able to charge from behind to pull off a top 30 finish after starting 44th.
“I was trying really hard to not get nervous, to just think about it as training and of course as soon as I showed up in the start and felt the butterflies, I was freaking out a little bit just because it was dark and bumpy. But I’ve been working all summer on my mental game and just kind of picturing everything like training and not trying to think about everyone else, and I think I did a decent job of staying in my own zone.”
Lake Louise is typically a venue where the American speed women dominate, but this year a majority of them did not participate due to injury. Lindsey Vonn, Alice McKennis, Breezy Johnson, and Jacqueline Wiles are all currently recovering from knee injuries. Lake Louise, also known as “Lake Lindsey” over the years, is a venue where Vonn performs particularly well. In fact, it holds such a deep place in her heart, that in the early hours before the race she announced she would forgo completely retiring in order to return to Lake Louise and compete next season.
“I hope to make them proud,” Merryweather said. “Without them here it’s pretty sad. Laurenne and I, and Mikaela are really trying to carry the team and do as well as we can but I wish they were all here.”
On Saturday the women will compete in another downhill at 12:30pm MST, followed by the Super G event on Sunday at 11:00am MST.
- Nicole Schmidhofer (AUT) 1.48.13 – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Michelle Gisin (SUI) +0.15 – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Kira Weidle (GER) +0.50 – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Stephanie Venier (AUT) +0.57 – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Tina Weirather (LIE) +0.59 – Head/Head/Head
- Ilka Stuhec (SLO) +0.94 – Stoeckli/Stoeckli
- Christine Scheyer (AUT) +0.96 – Head/Head/Head
- Joana Haehlen (SUI) +1.05 – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) +1.23 – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Cornelia Huetter (AUT) +1.43 – Head/Head/Head
For official FIS results, click here.