KUEHTAI, Austria – Despite the fact that the World Cup women had to tackle the new Hohe Mut slope during a relocated post-Christmas race, the crowds did not disappoint as 6,500 holiday travelers filled the finish area in Tirol and young men could be heard chanting, “We love you, Mikaela Shiffrin!” from the stands.
Shiffrin showed that her hard work over the holiday break from racing paid off as she skied the fastest first run, besting Swede Sara Hector by .27 seconds and Austrians Anna Fenninger and Eva-Maria Brem, in third and fourth respectively, by .39 and .44 seconds. In the stacked first run, the top 12 skiers all finished within a second of Shiffrin’s time, and qualification for the second run was cut off at 1.93 seconds.
What exactly did Shiffrin change in her skiing to regain her form and touch on snow since finishing fourth in the Are slalom and postponing her World Cup debut in super G?
“Today I’m trying to have fun, really trying not to think about winning but just having fun,” Shiffrin said after taking the lead in the first run. “I felt like a training run. I came into the finish and there wasn’t a scoreboard to look at, nothing to check. I just put my best run down and see what happens, and that actually made it more comforting for me.”
But it was the 22-year-old Swede who was destined for her career-first victory after finishing as runner-up in the Are GS and charging hard while staying smooth on the straighter, more open second run set. The snowfall increased, making for challenging conditions and tough visibility, but Hector skied a clean line to get the job done.
“Crazy! I’ve been dreaming of this my whole life, so it’s amazing,” she said of her first win. “It was a big fight for me but I just tried to go as fast as I could and then just see what happened. And it was enough to win so it’s crazy. I’m super happy. … I had nerves already a week ago, but it’s OK to be nervous as long as I’m focused, so I guess it was fine.”
Fenninger moved up to second on the day, but it was the first time in four years that she did not win the Dec. 28 World Cup GS race.
“December 28 was always my day,” Fenninger joked as she congratulated Hector on the win. “It was difficult today because we are very high and there are no trees so it was tough to see all the way. I was a little bit surprised with first run about that. I knew this but it’s always different when you are going fast down the course (as opposed to) during inspection.”
Many of the athletes enjoyed the undulations in the hill, and Fenninger was among them.
“It’s a cool race because it’s very difficult, the first steep section and all the waves. … You would think I like Semmering more because I won there and I was second today, but it’s not like that. It was a really good day for me, and I’m really happy with that,” she concluded.
Although not as dominant as in the first run, Shiffrin relied on her solid fundamentals despite waning visibility to hold on for third and secure her second GS podium of the season.
“Even with tough visibility and tough conditions, I still attacked as well as I ever have. So I’m moving in the right direction, and I’m psyched to be on the podium still,” Shiffrin acknowledged. “In these conditions when the course is set that straight – I thought it was really straight, I don’t know what everybody else thought – but I have trouble attacking and I tend to overski these courses, especially the second run or if I’m scared at all. I tried not to be scared today and just embrace the fact that it’s a new opportunity for me to attack in tough conditions, and that’s really good for me to learn.”
She also tested out different setups on her boots and skis during her training in Italy around Christmas to find what would give her the best response and feeling, and she’s making positive strides back to the podium.
“I think I’ve figured several things out about my skiing that I never really knew. It’s just always worked. So now I’m trying to pay a little bit more attention to what I’m feeling on my feet, and hopefully from here on out I’ll be able to recognize if I’m having problems,” Shiffrin said. “I feel like when I’m not on the top of my game, I don’t need the rest. I just need to get back on snow and figure it out, so I’m trying to find the balance there. But, for sure, just getting on snow and finding my good skiing again and feeling my turns and focusing on the technique and just the art of making good turns is nice.”
For GS standings leader Eva-Maria Brem, who went to Schigymnasium Stams just down the road from Kuehtai, it was a home race with added benefit. She finished fourth on the day to keep the discipline lead over her teammate Fenninger.
“Everything goes easy if you have such a success like I had in the end of the last season and my first victory in Aspen. It’s just awesome because I know the other side and now I can really enjoy it going that good,” Brem said. “The slope is really nice. The visibility is bad because we are at a very high altitude but for me, my home is about one hour away and a lot of people are joining me. So it’s some kind of strange to race here, but I like it – it’s pretty cool.”
Ragnhild Mowinckel also picked up a career-best World Cup and discipline result in fifth from bib 25 with the second fastest second run.
“I watched Nina (Loeseth) push out of the start and she was really going for it, so I decided I had to go for it too,” said the elated Norwegian in the finish area.
From bib 28, Canadian Marie-Pier Prefontaine also posted a career-best finish in sixth. Emotions in the finish area made it seem as if the podium extended all the way down to Prefontaine as her teammates corralled her with hugs and high fives.
“I’m just so happy that I finally did a second run like I can do and I didn’t do something weird like before. So I’m just happy and I’m stoked my teammates stayed to watch me,” said Prefontaine. “It was pretty sketchy. I don’t know what I was doing. Half the time I was just like, woah, what’s happening? And I just threw myself down and hoped for the best pretty much.”
After all the athletes had thrown themselves down the hill, one stood alone on the top step of the podium for the first time in her career.
“I said before that I like the way (Hector) skis, but I really like the fact that she got her first win so young,” noted Shifftin. “It’s a cool race – a tough race – and she came out on top, and I respect her.”
By Hank McKee
1 Hector, Head/Head/Head
2 Fenninger, Head/Head/Head
3 Shiffrin, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
5 Mowinckel, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
6 Prefontaine, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
9 Baud, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
Women’s World Cup Giant Slalom, Kuehtai in Tirol, Austria, Dec. 28, 2014:
- It is a replacement race for Semmering, Austria, moved because of a lack of snow and warm temperatures. … It is the 12th of 34 races remaining on the women’s 2014-15 calendar after the cancellation of the city event in Munich. … It is the fourth of seven scheduled giant slaloms. … Kuehtai has not previously hosted a World Cup alpine event.
- It is the first career World Cup win for Sara Hector, her second podium of the season.
- The winning margin is 0.09 seconds. … top nine finishers are within the same second. … top 22 within two seconds. … It is the second Swedish win of the season following Maria Pietilae-Holmner’s slalom win at Are Dec. 13.
- It is the 32nd career World Cup podium for Anna Fenninger and her fourth of the season including three second-place finishes in three different disciplines.
- It is the 18th career World Cup podium placing for Mikaela Shiffrin. … Her fourth in GS and her second in GS this season after winning at Soelden to open the World Cup.
- Is is a career-best result for Ragnhild Mowinckel, her first top-five World Cup finish … her previous best being eighth scored in the Beaver Creek GS in 2013.
- It is a career-best result for Marie-Pier Prefontaine. … Her previous best had been ninth scored twice at Arber-Zwiesel Feb 6, 2011 and Beaver Creek Dec. 1, 2013, both in GS. … It is the fifth score of the season for Marie-Michele Gagnon and her best GS result of the season.
- Tina Maze (tied for seventh in race) leads the World Cup overall standings 692-487 over Anna Fenninger (second in race). … Mikaela Shiffrin is third at 345pts and Lindsey Vonn (did not race) fourth overall with 312pts. … Marie-Michele Gagnon leads the Canadians in 25th with 115pts.
- Eva-Maria Brem (fourth in race) leads the giant slalom standings 270-242 over Fenninger. … Shiffrin is third with 226pts. … Marie-Pier Prefontaine leads the Canadians in 15th at 61pts.
- Austria leads the women’s Nations Cup 2255-1202 over the U.S. … Sweden is third with 1047. … Canada is ninth with 276pts.
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