SOELDEN, Austria – Until the 2015 Audi FIS Alpine World Cup season opener in Soelden, Austria, Federica Brignone of Italy had stood on the podium seven times without recording a single victory. All that changed on the Rettenbach glacier in the kickoff to the 2015-16 race season as Brignone completed two nearly flawless giant slalom runs down a slope so icy the 14,000 fans in attendance could practically see their reflections while watching the ladies tackle the courses.
The result couldn’t have come at a more critical time in Brignone’s career, as the 25-year-old giant slalom skier contemplated retirement after a challenging end to the 2014-15 winter.
“This year I worked a lot on my physical strength. I was really happy because after two runs I feel OK and usually I’m dead. I’m also really happy I worked on my mind because last year … it was a good season but then World Championships didn’t go well and I had problems at the end of the season with my GS. I wasn’t total happy so I said I have to improve, I have to keep on working, and I want to make this season good because if not I don’t know if I am going to be able to handle more seasons.”
Brignone held nearly a second lead over last season’s victor, American Mikaela Shiffrin, after the first run. Although Shiffrin was pleased with her opening attack on the Rettenbach, she knew Brignone would be hard to touch unless she made a similar mistake to one in 2011 when the Italian fell in the second run while holding the race lead.
“I heard that (Brignone) had nearly a perfect run, and I can’t wait to watch it because it’s probably gorgeous skiing and really powerful. I looked at the time and was like – what can you do?” Shiffrin said between runs.
The race wasn’t meant to slip between Brignone’s fingers yet again as she also achieved a lifelong goal of sporting the red leader’s bib heading into the second giant slalom race of the season.
“If I wasn’t in first place until now, it’s because I didn’t deserve to be,” said Brignone. “I was pretty nervous because that was the second time in my life with the lead after the first run. The other time it was here but I fell in the second.”
Shiffrin’s valiant effort on the second run shaved one-tenth off Brignone’s lead but was only enough for the second step on the podium. Still, the slalom ace was all smiles at the awards ceremony in the finish area as she struggled to uncork a champagne bottle. No longer a teenager, she is still only 20 years old.
“I had a couple bobbles but it’s because I was going for it, and that’s a really cool place for me to be right now,” said Shiffrin. “Last year I felt like (Soelden) wasn’t a really great gauge of how the season was going to play out but right now I feel really confident because I was fast at the top and the bottom which is a little bit more like the other races we have – a little bit flatter in terrain – but we won’t see another pitch like this for a while. I wish I could have maybe attacked more, stayed more on line too on the pitch, but the top and bottom (were good) and that’s a good gauge. Just feeling like I can charge down a course and maybe take some risks and actually pull it off – I’ve never felt that before.”
Shiffrin is a team of one, but she trained with the Germans and Norwegians in the weeks heading into the opener and was also with the U.S. women’s speed team in Chile over the summer.
“(The course) was super icy, and I think everyone was a little intimidated in inspection. But I kind of took the mentality to attack, and I’m so excited actually because I did,” Shiffrin said.
The top four skiers remained unchanged from the first run to race’s end despite a hard-charging effort by Swiss star Lara Gut, wearing bib 16, in an attempt to overtake Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather for the final step on the podium.
“Well I didn’t really think it was possible to beat (Gut) in the second run because she did a way better job in the first run. She had a higher start number and was only one-tenth behind me so I knew she was going to be really strong. I just went all in and tried my best,” said Weirather.
Weirather credited her new coach who previously worked with Hermann Maier and also the U.S. Ski Team with helping her achieve a first podium at Soelden.
“I have a new coach, Andi Evers, and that’s helped me a lot,” she said.
Other noteworthy takeaways from the opening women’s race of the year included a total of five Italian women landing in the top 15 and Frenchwoman Tessa Worley moving from bib 15 to fifth with the second-fastest second run of the day. Viktoria Rebensburg won the second run by three-tenths after sitting in 12th after the first. The German ultimately ended the day in sixth.
The women’s World Cup circuit moves to Levi, Finland, next where the ladies will contest the opening slalom race of the season on Nov. 14.
View more photos from today’s race here.
By Hank McKee
- Brignone Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
- Shiffrin Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Weirather Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Gut Head/Head/Head
- Worley Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
- Rebensburg Stoeckli/Lange/Atomic
- Hector Head/Head/Head
- Brem Volkl/Fischer/Marker
- Curtoni Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
- Hansdotter Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
- Women’s World Cup Giant Slalom, Soelden, Austria, Oct. 24, 2015. … It is the first World Cup race of the 49th season, the first of 41 women’s races and first of nine women’s giant slaloms. … It is the 31st World Cup race hosted by Soelden, the first held in 1993. … Soelden has hosted the World Cup opening race since 1998.
- Races in the opening weekend and at World Cup Finals (in St. Moritz this season) are the only races on the World Cup calendar in which no effort is made to reschedule in the event of cancellation.
- Mikaela Shiffrin and Anna Fenninger tied for the win in this race last season. It remains Shiffin’s only World Cup GS victory; Fenninger won four GS races last season alone.
- It is the first career World Cup win for Federica Brignone. … It is her eighth World Cup GS podium. She had previously been second four times, the most recent in 2012. She was third at Aspen last season. … It is the first Italian win at Soelden since Denise Karbon in 2007.
- It is the 25th career World Cup podium for Mikaela Shiffrin … her fifth in GS. … She tied for the win at Soelden last season.
- It is the 21st career World Cup podium for Tina Weirather … her first at Soelden and her fourth in GS. … She was fifth at Soelden in 2013 and tenth in 2014.
- Marie-Pier Prefontaine matches her seventh best career World Cup finish. … Her previous best at Soelden had been 19th in 2012. … It is the fifth score at Soelden for Marie-Michele Gagnon, topped by a sixth in 2012.
- The top four finishers did not change from the first run to the end of the second.
- Italy leads the women’s Nations Cup 208-81 over Sweden. … The U.S. is third with 80 points and Canada ninth with 22pts.
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|45||425880||SEJERSTED Lotte Smiseth||1991||NOR|
|44||197124||FRASSE SOMBET Coralie||1991||FRA|
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