ASPEN, Colo. – Eva-Maria Brem stunned the crowd – and herself – with a virtually flawless first run and then was able to hold on and overcome a second run charge from teammate Kathrin Zettel, the queen of Aspen with the most podiums here of all time, to take her first ever World Cup win.
Brem attacked from the start on run one with clean, aggressive, mistake-free skiing that saw her come down with a massive 1.88 second advantage over then leader Anna Fenninger, the victor of the past five giant slalom races. Her lead diminished marginally to 1.14 seconds over Italian Federica Brignone and Zettel heading into run two. Brem modestly attributed much of her success on the run to a new starting position inside the top seven and a lack of mistakes that marked the efforts of pre-race favorites Fenninger and Mikaela Shiffrin.
“I managed to fully attack without making any mistakes, that’s probably the reason why the gap is as it is now,” said Brem between runs. “My plan is to fully attack like I’m tenth or something because I think I will never get over it if I’m not attacking the second run.”
Brem was clearly in a league or her own today, with high, clean arcs that allowed her to release her edges earlier than her competitors and bring more speed from turn to turn. She came out of the start on run two and stuck to her game-plan, skiing as if she was in 10th instead of in the lead with a massive margin. She skied smart into the early, trickier sections that caught some of the racers off guard and then looked for speed in the rhythm sections to carry her to her first career victory.
“It was strange. I was at the finish and I saw the green light and then it took me about one or two or I don’t know how many seconds to realize, okay, I won,” said Brem with evident emotion. “And then the first thing I thought was I have to put my ski into the camera but I just couldn’t, I just fell in the snow and I was just crying.”
Brem, who has overcome major injuries in her career, started to find her confidence and speed at the end of last season after being left off of the Austrian Olympic team and even questioning whether to quit the sport. She now has four career podiums, all of which have come in the last five GS races, with the lone non-podium a fourth-place result.
“I had a pretty good start on the World Cup, in 2009 I started to feel close to winning … I was always close, and then in 2010 my injury happened,” reflected Brem. “I tried to come back and I felt that I was skiing well, but it was not that totally free skiing, where you don’t think about what you’re doing. I think the turnaround was my first podium last year in Are, Sweden. It was a magic moment for me … I thought maybe I can really do it.
“I’m very thankful for this moment. When I went over the finish line I didn’t realize I that I had really won – and then all the difficult moments of the last few years came out, I’m totally proud and happy.”
Zettel put in a strong effort in run two to move up one spot and leapfrog Brignone, from third to second, but did not make up enough time to overtake her teammate. Zettel skied with precision and aggression during run two, while navigating the tricky set by Italian coach Livio Magoni impeccably. She was able to narrow the gap from 1.33 seconds down to .59 seconds, logging the second fastest second run. This second-place finish marks the ninth career podium in Aspen for Zettel, adding to her record on the Lower Ruthie’s Run course.
“The first run was not that good. I was not happy about my skiing. I was a little angry that I did not drive through the gates and I made some little mistakes, so I focused really on the second run and it worked out,” concluded Zettel on the day.
It was a strong performance all around for the Austrians, with three in the top five and six scoring points on the day. Andrea Fischbacher started bib 46 and finished 18th, the biggest move of the race. Michaela Kirchgasser and Elisabeth Goergl finished fifth and eighth respectively, and were both elated with their results in the finish area, their first in the top 10 in GS in nearly two years for the pair.
“I’m really happy about the second place today because I was really nervous before the race. I thought about two years ago, I had a great weekend – I was second in GS and I won the slalom two years ago,” commented Zettel on the day. “I had a lot of big expectations for this weekend and for my coming season. It’s wonderful when it works so well like that.”
The Italian team saw similar success, with seven in the top 30, led by Brignone who was clearly ecstatic in the finish with her seventh career podium – all in GS and her second in Aspen. She skied a wild ride on the second run that was set by her coach, but was able to keep her skis arcing and carried her speed from turn to turn. She screamed and raised her hands in celebration when she crossed the line in second, knowing she had secured a podium finish. The third-place finish marks the first time she has landed on a podium since 2012.
“After two years without a podium, it’s good to be back,” said Brignone of her seventh career podium. “It was my big goal of the season. And now I’m back in third today, and maybe next time I will try to be better again.”
With a fifth-place finish in the opener in Soelden, Brignone is well on her way to a strong World Cup GS season and attributes much of her success to relaxing in the start, trusting herself and having fun on race day.
“I just had a great summer. I had fun. I enjoyed my skiing any my training. So I decided not to be so concentrated or tense so much. … I realized that’s not for me. I’m different. I like to have fun. I like to enjoy my friends. I like to enjoy vacations. Skiing for me is fun, so I have to keep going like this,” said Brignone. “At the start I’m really aggressive. I know what I have to do, and I really try it because in training I’m never the best.”
Tina Maze showed much improvement over her slow start in Soelden, with a fourth place finish, only five hundredths behind Brignone. She is proving that she is again a threat to the overall, along with her win earlier this month in Levi. Shiffrin, Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg and Goergl, Norwegian Nina Loeseth, and Italian Manuela Moelgg rounded out the top ten.
Shiffrin started the day as a favorite, but a major mistake, followed by a miraculous recovery, on the first run across Summer Road, unfortunately took her out of contention for the win heading into run two. She lost her outside ski over a roll on the road and slid on her hip, but was able to get her skis to hook up while propelling her body forward to make the next gate, but the speed was lost. A strong second run moved Shiffrin from 10th to sixth overall, and for a while it looked like a podium might be within reach as she held off the likes of 2010 Olympic champion Rebensburg and GS globe winner Fenninger. But then the heavy hitters came, with Kirchgasser, Maze, Zettel, Brignone, and Brem all overtaking her lead.
“I’m actually pretty psyched with (sixth). I don’t tend to make mistakes ever, and for me to go attack hard enough to make a mistake, it’s almost a breakthrough in a way. It’s just a bummer that it cost me a lot of time today, but it’s always a learning experience,” reflected Shiffrin.
The Norwegian Loeseth and Italian Moelgg held the first two positions in the leader’s box for much of the second run, and as the light went behind the mountain it looked as if their lead might stay tight for several more racers. Then came Shiffrin, who finished with the loudest cheers of the day as she came down with over a half second lead.
“I could hear (fans) at the start and that got my psyched up both runs. Second run I tried to stay a little bit more calm and just ski well. It’s really cool; it’s an awesome atmosphere,” commented Shiffrin on the day. “If I keep improving my skiing and I get a little bit more confidence, then I might be able to make up that kind of a gap someday. But I felt like I did a good job attacking the second run and keeping it clean, and that’s a step in the right direction.”
Despite the first run mistake, the American was happy with her day and was pleased with her skiing on the second run in challenging light conditions.
“It’s really dark right now, but I have really good goggles … so I didn’t really have an issue with it. The light changes, but by the time I went it was all dark so my eyes adjusted and it was fine,” said Shiffrin.
It was a rough day for the rest of the North American contingent. Julia Mancuso came charging out of the start with strong, solid skiing down Spring Pitch, but she lost her outside ski over the tricky roll on Summer Road and fell on her side, missing the next gate. The other two American starters, Megan McJames and Anna Marno, did not qualify for a second run in challenging conditions with late bib numbers that only saw five athletes outside the top 30 even qualify for a second run.
“Besides for the mistake on the flats first run, Mikaela had a very solid day today and skied pretty well. Another good GS performance from her!” exclaimed Alpine Director Patrick Riml. “Julia was charging, and unfortunately was not able to finish – but shows good technical skiing.”
The Canadians had a promising start to their day with Marie-Pier Prefontaine and Marie-Michele Gagnon finishing 14th and 16th on run one. But trouble in tough light on run two saw them move back and finish 26th and 24th respectively.
Many of the pre-race favorites had surprisingly poor performances, with two-time Aspen winner Tessa Worley falling first run and Lara Gut and Jessica Lindell-Vikarby not skiing to the best of their abilities, finishing 22nd and 27th.
Tomorrow the ladies are back on Lower Ruthie’s Run for slalom, where Shiffrin will look to improve upon her 11th place result in Levi and maybe even end the American winning drought in Aspen.
By Hank McKee
- Brem, Volkl/Fischer/Marker
- Zettel, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Brignone, Rossignol/Lange/Rossignol
- Maze, Stoeckli/Lange/Atomic
- Kirchgasser, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Shiffrin, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Rebensburg, Stoeckli/Nordica/Marker
- Goergl, Head/Head/Head
- Loeseth, Volkl/Lange/Marker
- Moelgg, Rossignol/Lange/Rossignol
Women’s World Cup giant slalom, Aspen, Colo., Nov. 29, 2014:
- It is the third race of the women’s 35 race World Cup schedule … the second of seven scheduled women’s giant slaloms. … It is the 71st World Cup race hosted by Aspen, the 22nd GS.
- Tina Maze is the defending GS champion. … The last World Cup win at Aspen by an American was Bill Johnson winning a downhill in March of 1984. … Tamara McKinney is the only U.S. woman to have won at the site (1981 GS).
- It is the first career World Cup win for the 26-year-old Eva-Maria Brem but her fourth podium, all in GS and all of them in the last nine months.
- Second place was more than a half second out and third was 1.36 back. … just six skiers were within two seconds of the winning time.
- It is the 48th career World Cup podium for Kathrin Zettel … and her ninth podium at Aspen in 16 scoring finishes.
- It is the seventh career World Cup podium for Federica Brignone, and her second at Aspen.
- Mikaela Shiffrin matches her fifth-best career GS finish. … Marie-Michele Gagnon records her fifth best of five World Cup finishes at Aspen. … Marie-Pier Prefontaine scores her fourth best of four World Cup finishes at Aspen.
- Zettel leads the World Cup overall standings 190-164 over Mikaela Shiffrin. … Brem is third with 160pts. … Gagnon leads Canada in 14th with 47pts.
- Brem leads the GS standings 160-140 over Shiffrin with Zettel in third at 130pts.
- Austria leads the women’s Nations Cup 686-294 over Sweden. … Italy is third with 283pts. … The U.S. is fourth with 196 and Canada tenth at 59pts.
|Disqualified 1st run|
|Did not qualify for 2nd run|
|38||197124||FRASSE SOMBET Coralie||1991||FRA|
|Did not finish 2nd run|
|Did not finish 1st run|
|64||35079||SIMARI BIRKNER Maria Belen||1982||ARG|