The first winner: Fenninger tops in super-G
Special to the Daily
BEAVER CREEK — The margin that separated the gold, silver and bronze medalists in Tuesday’s FIS Alpine World Ski Championships women’s super-G was barely measurable by physical distance.
It was a mere fraction of a blink of the eye, an imperceptible flash.
But as Lindsey Vonn herself said after the race, “that’s ski racing for you.”
Austrian Anna Fenninger, the 2014 Olympic super-G champion, was the woman who ended up with another gold medal on Tuesday, finishing a mere 0.03 seconds ahead of silver medalist and World Cup overall leader Tina Maze and 0.15 seconds ahead of Vonn, who took the bronze, the first of that color to add to her World Champs super-G collection.
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Wind on shortened course
After 2 inches of snow fell overnight and strong wind forced organizers to move the start down to its reserve location — about five gates lower than the original super-G start — select racers were blasted by gusts of wind. A handful of racers veered off-course missing gates. Some said the course was considerably “turnier” than any super-G on the World Cup this season. It came down to a few hundredths of a second for those ladies who could make clean turns.
“It was so tight,” Fenninger said of the podium. “The hundredths were on my side today.”
The 25-year-old Austrian said she came into Tuesday’s race relatively stress-free, having landed Olympic gold and also a gold in the 2011 World Championships super-combined race, the first big win of her career. She managed to pull off a bronze in giant slalom in 2013 when the event was in her home country, but DNFed in the super-G. Coming into the Beaver Creek race, Fenninger said most of the pressure was on Vonn. The Austrian knew she had it in her to find the top step of the podium after a number of near wins on the World Cup leading up to the race, including two weekends ago in the St. Moritz, Switzerland, super-G, where she finished 0.24 seconds behind Vonn.
“I had not that much pressure today. I felt not like two years ago in Schladming. It’s so difficult to race at home. (Vonn) was the big favorite today. It was a very tight race and a very big fight,” Fenninger said. “I had six second-places in the World Cup until now. It was always very close. That’s the last thing I needed … a bit of luck.”
Vonn back on podium
Luck aside, anyone familiar with the World Cup would agree that it was a powerhouse podium and that the three medalists were extremely deserving. In spite of being the favorite, Vonn was pleased with her bronze-medal performance, a vast improvement to her last World Champs super-G race, where she sustained the horrific crash that would set her back two seasons with knee injuries.
“I’m happy with the way I skied today. I’m happy with the result,” Vonn said. “I wish the weather was a bit better. I definitely had a strong head wind right out of the start gate.”
Vonn’s first two splits, in spite of looking very clean, left her in the red. She made up a lot of time on the course, nearly half a second from her second split time to the bottom. Wearing bib No. 18 with Tiger Woods, her mother and retired German racer and good friend Maria Hoefl-Riesch among her cheering section, she crossed the finish line with the fastest time, 0.11 seconds ahead of then-leader Cornelia Heutter of Austria, who ended up fourth Tuesday.
“You could pick any number of gates on the top. A couple of gates cost me more than 15-hundredths,” Vonn said. “But at the same time, Anna skied incredibly well. I’m very proud to be on the podium with those two.”
Maze, the only woman left on the World Cup circuit who continues to podium in all five race disciplines, was all smiles in the post-race press conference, displaying a pair of new leather mittens featuring Colorado flags.
“It was a great day for me,” the Slovenian said. “It was not easy to ski with the wind. This is a tough hill. It’s a lot of waves, a lot of terrain. I have a lot of respect for this course. I’m really happy I could bring down this run.”
Wearing bib No. 19, Maze followed Vonn down the course and the reaction in the overflowing finish stadium was measurably different when the Slovenian took over the lead spot.
“She was the one to beat for me here,” Maze said of Vonn. “When I came down seeing the No. 1, of course, the crowd was really silent. Anna had the great run. In life it’s like that. Those hundredths are changing. It’s always close. You have to be a little lucky with those hundredths.”
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.