ARE, Sweden – There were so many things to celebrate for Lindsey Vonn on Friday she couldn’t even keep up with them. The first order of celebration was, of course, that no other woman on the giant slalom track in Are could keep up with her.
After leading the first run in flat light and on spring-like snow conditions, the American proceeded to leave everyone else far behind her, winning the race – the second giant slalom of her World Cup career following the season opening victory in Soelden – in a combined time of 2 minutes, 28.00 seconds.
With the win, Vonn clinches her fourth overall World Cup title – becoming the only American ski racer in history to do so. She also surpasses her season points record. In 2009, she won the Cup with 1788 points but now she is already up to 1808 with five races left on the calendar.
“It is a lot less stressful clinching the overall title before the Finals,” Vonn said. “Last year, I think I lost years off of my life. It’s been an amazing season, one where I’ve had a lot of fun and enjoyed every race. I’ve found my rhythm in GS for the first time in my career.”
The only racer to finish within a second of Vonn’s winning time on Friday was Italian GS world champion silver medalist Federica Brignone, 0.48 seconds back. Viktoria Rebensburg, who won both GS races last weekend in Ofterschwang, rounded out the podium in third Friday, 1.05 seconds off of Vonn’s winning pace.
"The first run I felt I skied well. I made a couple of small mistakes but I was really aggressive more like I was skiing in training, moving into the new ski early, working from first gate to the last, fighting continuously," Vonn said. "Second run I wasn’t sure how I would do. I had some bobbles here and there. It was tough conditions – really bumpy and flat light. I wouldn’t have expected to be that far in front of everyone – especially Vicky … she’s been skiing so well. That was really cool.”
The third place finish gives Rebensburg a 95-point lead in the World Cup GS standings (Vonn is her nearest competitor) and with just one race remaining has all but clinched the title (Vonn would have to win the last race and the German would have to ski very badly for any other outcome). On Friday, she was just 0.07 seconds behind Vonn after the first run, but in the second run aimed to ski clean rather than gun it for a third straight victory.
“It was not my best run, but I’m happy with my podium,” said the German, who has won or podiumed in six of eight GS races this season, having missed a gate in one and making fourth place her worst finish. “I heard from the coaches that it was not easy to ski – it was bumpy and the light wasn’t too good, so I just tried to ski clean, not making to many mistakes. That’s what I did and that I ended up with third place, it’s nice.”
Although in all likelihood Rebensburg will be the ladies GS champion a second straight year she said it’s not over until it’s over.
“I’m just focusing on the next race now in Schladming,” she said.
When asked if she would take the next week off now that the overall title is in the bag, Vonn said, "Ha! Yeah right."
The American champion said she would "much rather be on a beach somewhere," but of course, will instead try to break Hermann Maier's World Cup record of 2,000 - the most points won by an athlete in one season.
"It's going to be really difficult," she said. "I'm going to really have to execute in every race from here on out. I have three chances to get in top three in Finals. If i can do that, it's defnitely in reach. I have to execute and make no mistakes ... that's not always easy."
For Brignone, Friday marked her third podium of the season – all second place – which she was especially happy about considering that things went rather sour for quite a few races following her last podium in Kranjska Gora several weeks ago.
“This morning I just tried to feel something good, because the last few races I wasn’t good,” said Brignone, who was sporting one of four loud colors of lipstick she’s been experimenting with this season, deeming this one (bright pink) the luckiest so far. “I did three shitty races, I fell three times this year. After three races I was coming to the finish, every time I was bad. I didn’t understand what I did. Today I felt good. I crossed the finish. The feeling was good. To be back on the podium is really cool.”
Before Friday’s race, the morning was met with a thin layer of very wet sticky snow and although there was no precipitation during the race, the cloud cover made for very flat light and drops of rain began falling once again immediately after the race wrapped up.
The sticky conditions took out a couple of major contenders right from the beginning. Elisabeth Goergl – the first racer on course – slid out at the top and then Maria Hoefl-Riesch did the same on the bottom of the first-run course, notching her third straight DNF in giant slalom.
Several other racers however, triumphed in the spring-like conditions. Austrian Anna Fenninger and France’s Tessa Worley finished in a dead tie for fourth place, 1.38 seconds off of Vonn’s winning time and Tina Maze – now with a healthy lead over Maria Hoefl-Riesch for second place in the overall standings (1254 points to the German’s 1075), was sixth Friday, 1.59 seconds back.
The second run hero of the day was Italy’s Lisa Magdalena Agerer. Having just won seven consecutive Europa Cup races (four GS, two downhill and one super G), the 20-year-old skied from bib No. 29 to seventh place, 1.72 seconds back with the fastest second run of the day (1:12.17). Julia Mancuso celebrated her 28th birthday with an eighth-place finish Friday, France’s Anemone Marmottan brought it in for ninth and Michaela Kirchgasser landed 10th. Wearing bib No. 46, Nadia Fanchini had another spectacular come-back-from-injury race to tie for 11th with teammate Denise Karbon as American Resi Stiegler – who landed the first podium of her turbulent World Cup career in Sunday’s slalom in Ofterschwang – notched her best GS result since 2007 in 13th after starting 45th.
The 2012 World Cup in Are wraps up with slalom on Saturday, first run kicking off at 10:30 local time.
by Shauna Farnell