Mikaela Shiffrin second in World Cup opening GS | VailDaily.com

Mikaela Shiffrin second in World Cup opening GS

By ERIC WILLEMSEN, Associated Press
Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States competes during the first run of an alpine ski, women's World Cup giant slalom, in Soelden, Austria, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Marco Trovati)
AP photo

SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — Lara Gut got the defense of her overall World Cup title off to a shining start on Saturday.

The first women’s champion from Switzerland in more than two decades, Gut dominated the season-opening giant slalom on a sun-soaked Rettenbach glacier.

On an icy slope under crisp blue skies, Gut held on to her first-run lead to clinch a comfortable win, leading Mikaela Shiffrin by 1.44 seconds for her 19th career victory. The American also finished second here last year after winning the race in 2014.

“It’s a good start,” Gut said. “Soelden is always a special race. It’s very steep, it’s very difficult. You have to charge and not think too much. I had to fight against my head as I had been thinking too much in the past 24 hours. I don’t know why. Usually I just ski and enjoy what I am doing. I am the one who laughs.”

Gut said she thanked the men’s overall champion, Austria’s Marcel Hirscher, for giving her some useful advice.

“Marcel told me yesterday, ‘You just have to ski.’ I knew I could be fast but you still have to deliver,” she said. “Today wasn’t my easiest day. It was a fight against myself. What I am going to take with me from today is that I was stronger than my head, I was stronger than that what I was thinking.”

Gut held a 1.42 lead over Shiffrin after the first leg, and was put under pressure by the American’s near-flawless second run. The Swiss champion lost two-tenths early in her run but her victory never came under threat.

“The second run was a battle,” Gut said.

Shiffrin said she could live with coming runner-up for a second straight year after being beaten by Italy’s Federica Brignone last season.

“It’s a big relief. I can be happy with it but I also know I can be better,” Shiffrin said. “I really wanted to start off the season strong. It’s always better to win but Lara was very strong, just like Federica last year. Today she raised the level. I am not super far off but I am still looking for that second GS win.”

Shiffrin praised her Swiss rival for holding herself together.

“She is like the queen of hammering the course and risking and really, really racing. I am getting close to it but I have a lot of respect for her to be able to come through the first race of the season.”

Marta Bassino of Italy was the only other skier to finish within two seconds of Gut to earn her maiden top-three result. It was the 100th podium in GS by an Italian woman. Only Austria, Switzerland and France have more top-three results.

“I just tried to ski like in training,” Bassino said through an interpreter. “This is an amazing result, it means a lot to me.”

Former world champion Tessa Worley of France placed sixth, 2.88 off the lead, while Eva-Maria Brem of Austria, who took the GS title last season, came 5.14 seconds behind in 26th after two disappointing runs.

Petra Vlhova of Slovakia started 55th but posted the fastest second-run time to finish eighth.

Several top contenders were sitting out the race. American standout Lindsey Vonn said she will focus more on the speed events downhill and super-G this season, while two-time former overall champion Anna Veith of Austria and 2010 Olympic GS champion Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany were recovering from injuries.

Organizers said the race was attended by 14,000 spectators, including the 77-year-old Heinrich Messner. The Austrian won the first ever World Cup race in 1967 — a slalom in Berchtesgaden, Germany. He was invited to Soelden as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the World Cup.

A men’s giant slalom on the same course is scheduled for Sunday.