What at an earlier point in the season was considered by many to be an insurmountable advantage in the overall standings for Tina Maze has taken a shocking turn as Anna Fenninger once again dominated the women’s giant slalom in Are, Sweden, to take her ninth straight World Cup podium and fifth victory of the season. With it, Fenninger has stolen the overall lead from Maze, who struggled on run two to finish all the way back in 20th, with only five races remaining in the season.
Fenninger has been on an absolute tear week after week, dating back to Jan. 19 in Cortina D’Ampezzo when she finished second in a super G to start her podium streak. On that day Maze led the overall standings over Fenninger by 361 points, 922 to 561. Win her win today, Fenninger now leads the standings for the first time since she won the opening race in Soelden, 1341 to 1296 for Maze.
“I am living a dream,” Fenninger said at the press conference. “From the very beginning of the season with a great victory in Soelden until now, it just has been amazing. I am very happy I can show my best skiing here again.”
No matter what has been thrown in Fenninger’s way the past two months of the season, she has found a way to overcome it all: fog, wind, snow, incredible recoveries, and course sets. Today was no different. The first run started late in the afternoon under sunny skies on a warm day in Sweden creating soft, spring-like conditions. The second run, which started well after the sun had set, was held under the lights on a dark and bumpy track that developed out of frozen ruts and slush.
Fenninger set the pace on run one with clean and precise skiing in the soft and mushy conditions under the diminishing daylight to take a 0.50-second advantage over her teammate Kathrin Zettel.
Run two under the lights set by Maze’s coach was supposed to benefit the Sloeven, but the opposite occurred. Maze, who was tied for sixth with birthday girl Mikaela Shiffrin after first run, skied a slow and sluggish run under the lights to finish well off the pace, 2.25 seconds back, in 20th. Meanwhile, Fenninger had to overcome the blistering run of Italian Nadia Fanchini, who skied from fifth after run one to ultimately land in second for her first ever World Cup GS podium.
Fenninger skied smartly out of the start where the cross ruts and snow piles from the warm and soft first run were most dangerous and then stayed within reach over the challenging blind rolls through the middle portion. Her one-second advantage from run one briefly diminished to only three-tenths, giving Fanchini hope in the finish area for her first ever victory. But then Fenninger found the gas again and crossed the line with an impressive 0.71-second advantage.
“Yeah, it’s so cool to win again here. I love that race and today it was very difficult because of the snow,” admitted Fenninger. “It was bumpy and more hard than I thought, so in the second (run) it was just a bumpy ride, and I’m happy that I could win this race again here.”
The win all but solidified the GS globe for Fenninger. She now leads her teammate Eva-Maria Brem, who finished third, by 86 points, 442 to 356, with only one race remaining. Brem’s only chance at her first ever globe would come in the form of a victory for herself and a result outside of the top 15 in the final race for Fenninger (since only athletes in the top 15 are awarded points at World Cup finals).
“I didn’t know what Tina was doing so I didn’t know if she was winning or not. So for me it was important to have a good GS because it’s a fight for the globe in GS and it’s very important for me … the fight is very strong and it was important to win,” Fenninger said after the race.
Fanchini was visibly elated in the finish when she realized she would finish on the podium. She skied with reckless abandon and left nothing on the hill in a ragged – but fast and aggressive – run that moved her from fifth to second overall. She was one of seven Italians in the second run, with four of those landing in the top 10. In addition to Fanchini’s second place, Federica Brignone finished fifth, only four hundredths from third, and 2014 World Junior GS champion Marta Bassino, at only age 19, finished sixth, two hundredths behind Brignone. Manuela Moelgg found herself in 10th to cap off the impressive Italian showing.
“The race went really well,” explained Fanchini. “I knew it wasn’t impossible to make it to the top-3 because I was close to the best in the first run. I gave it my all and I am so glad it worked out.”
Brem, who led the GS standing for much of the year, skied well on both runs to give herself a sliver of hope for the small globe heading into World Cup finals next week in Meribel. She had to finish fourth or better in order to mathematically remain eligible, and she finished third — by a hair. Shiffrin, in fourth, was only two hundredths back, and the Italians in fifth and sixth were only an additional four and six hundredths behind, respectively. Overall, it has been, by far, the best season of Brem’s career. Her worst result of the year was a 10th place in the Maribor GS. She has only finished off the podium one other time all season — a fourth in Kuehtai, Austria, right after Christmas. Prior to this season, Brem had only one podium in her career, last season on the same hill in Are.
“I have had a great start to the season, but then things didn’t really go the way I wanted,” said Brem. “I worked and worked and to be back on the podium, today feels good. To have the chance to fight for this globe until the very end is nice. You never know what can happen. I am looking forward to the finals.”
Shiffrin celebrated her 20th birthday with a strong GS showing in fourth. First run she appeared to have trouble with the rhythm and rolls of the course, but on the more open and turny second run set she found her confidence. Sitting in a tie for sixth with Maze after run one, Shiffrin was able to overtake both Sara Hector, who was fourth after run one, and Zettel who sat in second, to finish just off the podium. Hector and Zettel were bumped back to seventh and 13th, respectively.
“I think especially the middle section I’m still a little tentative over the terrain, and I have to get confident pushing on my ski and getting all the power out of it and managing that power all the way down the hill,” said Shiffrin. “Every run is a learning experience for me because right now I’m trying to make some changes in my GS skiing so it’s going to take little bit more practice.”
Shiffrin was one of only two Americans in the race. The other, Megan McJames, had a fast first interval, but ran into trouble midway down and did not qualify for a second run. Marie-Pier Prefontaine was the only Canadian representative in the second run and finished 26th overall.
“It was OK, I mean I think I made some really good turns … I think I can probably be more active, move a little bit more,” said Shiffrin.
Shiffrin will now move on to her best event with a slalom race tomorrow, on the same hill where she won her first ever World Cup race back in 2012.
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