Following the Killington World Cups late last month, Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova wasn’t sure when she would step back into a starting gate. The 24-year-old World Champion had been nursing a tibia injury suffered before Soelden that had only gotten worse once the wear and tear of World Cup ski racing set in.
Skiing through pain in the first races of the year was not ideal and her team first disclosed that she would likely not be racing until January at the earliest after pain forced her to abandon a training session last week in Val Gardena, Italy. Then, after some intensive days of treatment, Vlhova decided to enter Sunday’s parallel in St. Moritz.
According to her team, Vlhova skied at only 60% through the sun-soaked morning qualification runs, where the fastest 32 racers advance, and managed to secure the number one seed heading into the afternoon’s knockout rounds.
Vlhova then managed to methodically and decisively work her way through the afternoon runs before ultimately facing Sweden’s Anna Swenn-Larsson in the finals for the win. As both racers burst out of the start, there was no clear leader for much of the course before Swenn-Larsson looked to have opened up an ever so slight lead after the final jump on course. Looks can be deceiving, however, as Vlhova managed to find time in the final turns to squeak ahead of her Swedish rival by a mere 0.02 seconds for her first win of the season.
“I am so, so happy after all day so today was a perfect day for me,” she shared in the finish. “It was a little bit of a tough day but in the end, all good.”
Vlhova’s performance was made all the more impressive given her physical condition just one week ago. When asked how her leg felt after a long day of eight runs of intense parallel racing, the tall Slovak was optimistic about her health and was quick to put her win into perspective.
“I don’t know now exactly because I have a lot of emotion inside of me so I’ll have to wait and see,” she said of how she was feeling after the race. “I think it’s ok but, yes, the last two weeks I was in difficult shape and had a lot of pain and couldn’t train so this is the reason why I am more happy than before.”
As of Sunday evening, Vlhova now plans to race the upcoming races in Courchevel and Val d’Isere.
Swenn-Larsson was not shy about expressing her dismay at losing out on her first World Cup win in the final meters of the race, but was nonetheless content with her fifth career World Cup podium.
“I’m super, super happy,” Swenn-Larsson said. “It’s amazing for me to come second but it was so close today and I would have loved that win, but, of course I am satisfied and super happy.”
It was an unusually long day for the women as the top racers took up to eight runs on course before the race was over. For Swenn-Larsson, that schedule played to her advantage as she is a racer that prefers to take many runs in training and usually gets faster throughout the day.
“For me it was better and better every run,” she added. “It started pretty slow in the first quali, like 23rd or something, and then it just went better and better and I felt better and better. I like to do a lot of runs in training so it was perfect for me.”
Austria’s Franziska Gritsch also managed to beat out Slovenia’s Meta Hrovat in the small final for her first World Cup podium and was at a loss for words after the race.
“I think I’m a bit surprised. I think I need to think about it a little bit more before I can really put it into perspective,” she said. “I don’t know what to say, it’s really cool!”
For the Americans, Nina O’Brien carried the flag after qualifying for the knockout rounds before being eliminated in the round of 32 to finish 24th. On a day that was as hotly contested as Sunday, it was an accomplishment in itself to move into the afternoon’s racing. Mikaela Shiffrin announced on Saturday afternoon that she would not race to rest her body before another grueling block of races this coming week.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” O’Brien shared in the finish. “I’m glad that I was able to get into the race and compete. I wish I had had a little more speed in my runs, but overall not bad. I feel like I learned that I can be in there so there’s a little bit of confidence there and I definitely need to work a little bit more on my jumps and starts, but it’s good.”
The only other American starter, Alice Merryweather, did not make it to the knockout rounds.
Canada’s Laurence St. Germain was the top North American, landing in fifth place for her best World Cup finish to date.
“I’m really happy about today, especially after two disappointing races in Levi and Killington,” St. Germain told Alpine Canada. “But what I’m really proud of is I feel like I improved every round.”
The women’s tour now heads to Courchevel, France, for giant slalom racing on Tuesday, December 17.
- Petra Vlhova (SVK) Rossignol/Rossingol/Look
- Anna Swenn-Larsson (SWE) Head/Head/Head
- Franziska Gritsch (AUT) Head/Head/Head
- Meta Hrovat (SLO) Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
- Laurence St. Germain (CAN) Rossingol/Rossignol/Look
- Federica Brignone (ITA) Rossingnol/Rossignol/Look
- Nina Haver-Loeseth (NOR) Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Ana Bucik (SLO) Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
For complete results, click here.