CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy – It was freezing cold, the stands were empty, and Lara Gut-Behrami had to drape the gold medal around her own neck and grab her trophy from a table.
Three hours after the women’s super-G race finished at the Alpine skiing world championships on Thursday, the Swiss standout could finally collect her first career gold during a muted medal ceremony in the chilly finish area.
Three hours may seem short compared to the 12 years that Gut had to wait for this moment since taking two silvers at the 2009 worlds as a 17-year-old. But in the end she was just glad it was over.
“Of course, it’s been great,” she said. “But it’s getting a bit too long today, we’re freezing, everyone.”
In the opening event of the worlds after three days of postponements, the Swiss star dashed to gold ahead of Swiss teammate Corinne Suter in a race that saw Mikaela Shiffrin take bronze in the American’s first speed race in more than a year.
The trio was made to wait to get their awards until after the subsequent men’s super-G, which was won by Vincent Kriechmayr of Austria.
Both races took place without fans amid strict anti-coronavirus measures, which also prevented officials from handing over the medals and trophies.
Gut-Behrami mastered the sun-bathed Olympia delle Tofane course to finally win the only medal missing from her storied career, which includes six medals from previous major events.
Gut-Behrami burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old, winning silver in the downhill and combined event at the 2009 worlds. She later added Olympic bronze in downhill in 2014 and the overall World Cup title two years later. She has won 30 World Cup races in total, including the last four super-Gs
However, she kept being asked about finally winning a gold medal.
“I never thought that I was supposed to win a gold,” she said. “I thought today in the start that if someone asked me if I prefer to have 30 wins in the World Cup or a gold medal, I would have said ’30 wins.’ That made it easier to ski today. I just tried to do what I can and not think too much.”
More than 13 years of top-level ski racing, including breaks because of hip and knee injuries, have made Gut-Behrami reflective.
“With the time, I realize that in life there’s many things more important than just a gold medal. It’s good if you can win it, but it’s not going to change your life,” she said. “Your life as an athlete changes when you get injured.”
Shiffrin also lamented the lack of atmosphere, after impressing in her first speed race in 382 days.
“When I came to the finish, I was like, ‘Well I must be so slow, because nobody is cheering.’ But there’s nobody here to cheer,” the American said. “You miss the vibe, the crowds and everything.”
Shiffrin finished 0.47 behind in third after missing a chance to win gold. She had the fastest split times but was slowed by a mistake near the end when she skied through soft snow alongside the track.
“I thought the plan I had from inspection would be the fastest, but I didn’t know if I could execute everything. And in the end, I executed like 98%,” said Shiffrin, who returned from a 10-month break from racing in November.
“Even when I made a mistake, I still felt good about my skiing,” Shiffrin said.
In the men’s race, Kriechmayr overcame a tricky course and high expectations to complete his medal set, after he won silver in super-G and bronze in downhill at the worlds two years ago.
Starting fifth on a course never featured on the men’s World Cup circuit, the Austrian mastered the difficult Canalone passage about 20 seconds into his run, where the first three starters all missed a gate and skied out.
Beating Romed Baumann and Alexis Pinturault, who took silver and bronze respectively, Kriechmayr confirmed his status as one of the race favorites. He won the last two super-Gs on the World Cup circuit and leads the season discipline standings.
Many racers after him choose a similar race line approaching the Canalone, but no one matched Kriechmayr’s pace on the rest of the course. Only 34 of the 56 starters made it to the finish.