Even with a bobble, Fenninger wins
BEAVER CREEK — And for the slightest instant, most of Austria had a heart attack.
Starting with a 1.7-second lead, Anna Fenninger seemed only to need to get down in one piece for gold in Thursday’s giant slalom at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. As is her want, she skied aggressively, building her lead before nearly falling on Harrier, the second-to-last steep of the course, before rebounding to secure Austria’s fifth gold medal of the Championships.
“I was surprised because I made that mistake because, shortly, I thought my advantage is gone,” Fenninger said. “When I came to the finish line and saw I was in the lead, I can’t believe that. It was too much for me.”
And everyone in the Alpine Republic recovered and resumed normal cardiac and pulmonary functions.
Fenninger captured her third medal of Worlds, having already earned gold in super-G and silver in downhill, as Austria is starting to run away in the medal chase with eight overall. Viktoria Rebensburg gave Germany its first medal of the 2015 Worlds with silver, finishing 1.40 seconds behind Fenninger, while Sweden’s Jessica Lindell-Vikarby, the winner at the only previous women’s GS held here in 2013, punched in at bronze for her first Worlds medal.
Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather was fourth, followed by Slovenia’s Tina Maze. That means that Norway’s Lasse Kjus will remain the only racer to medal in all five individual events. He did so in 1999. Maze was 3-for-3 entering Thursday’s GS.
“No, it wasn’t enough,” Maze said. “It felt not a 100 percent. I did a lot of mistakes in the first run. I didn’t find the right speed. I was trying to push too much, and on this snow, if you push too much, you are slower.”
Slow down, Anna
Fenninger laid down her marker early, putting down a 0.9-second lead over Lindell-Vikarby. Austrian teammate Michaela Kirchgasser cut that to 0.81, charging from the No. 19 bib. While Kirchgasser fell off the podium after the second run, the Austrians ended up with three in the top 10 with Kirchgasser sixth and Kathrin Zettel seventh.
In a sobering thought, Fenninger finished fourth in the combined on Monday, just 0.54 seconds off the podium or she could be leaving here with four medals.
“I think you saw my slalom performance in the combined because there are so many girls who can do it better,” Fenninger said. “For Tina, (Saturday)’s a chance to make a fourth medal. For me, it’s amazing I can reach three medals and one fourth place. I think it’s the best Championships ever for me.”
There’s no doubt about that, and her performance left her competitors in awe.
“Three medals? I’m very impressed with the performance of Anna,” Rebensburg said. “I told her to not be so fast, to take her time in the second run.”
With the flip, Fenninger had 1.7-second advantage, and snow-plowing down the hill might have been an idea. But she went for it.
“I felt really good on my skis today,” Fenninger said. “It was hard work in the last weeks we made with the company Head, and I tried every time to get my GS days between the speed and keep my shape. It was a really smooth first run and I thought it will be a tight race today because it’s flat and not that much turns, I tried to push and keep on going. When I saw that advantage in the first race, I was surprised because I felt not that good. I felt not that I can make an advantage like nine-tenths (stand up).”
First Worlds medals
This is surprisingly Rebensburg’s first Worlds medal, despite a distinguished career, which includes 10 World Cup wins and Olympic gold in GS back in 2010. While she is best known for her GS, Rebensburg had two podiums in downhill this season on the World Cup.
“I always said to myself that the World Champs are over when the second run is over from the giant slalom,” the German said. “I knew I had a chance to win a medal here. For sure, the giant slalom results weren’t that good in the season, but we worked hard with (Stoeckli) and coaches and put up good skis. I didn’t think it would work out for a medal when I came in to the finish. It worked out.”
Meanwhile, Lindell-Vikarby officially loves Beaver Creek after two races and a World Cup win and Worlds bronze.
“I’m really happy with what I achieved today,” the Norwegian said. “I tried a lot of Championships to reach a medal. The last months have been a tough journey. … Last year, I didn’t succeed. People didn’t believe I could do this. My closest (friends) believed and I did, so that’s the difference.”
American medal chances were sunk by bad first runs. Mikaela Shiffrin was 1.72 seconds off the pace and tied for 12th after the first run, also won by Fenninger, while Lindsey Vonn was 27th, 2.67 seconds back. Both bounced back with superb second runs. Shiffrin landed in eighth and Vonn jetted to 14th.
The Championships continue today with men’s giant slalom at 10:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.