SOELDEN, Austria – Sitting in the leader box, Lucas Braathen buried his head in his hands as he watched each racer after him crossing the finish line at the season-opening men’s World Cup giant slalom Sunday.
But the Norwegian’s time held up, even after first-run leader Gino Caviezel completed his second.
Braathen, who had never finished in a World Cup podium position, improved from fifth place after the opening leg to upset the pre-race favorites and clinch his first career win.
“It’s a pretty good day,” the 20-year-old told Austrian TV with a bright smile.
Braathen posted the second fastest time in the decisive leg to finish ahead of Swiss duo Marco Odermatt and Caviezel.
Odermatt, the fastest racer in the second run, was five hundredths behind, and Caviezel trailed by 0.46 seconds for his first career podium.
“A victory’s too much to ask for but I know that my mental side is strong, I know my technical skiing has improved a lot, my physics as well,” Braathen said.
“I knew that I was capable of a podium. First victory, first race of the season, it’s unbelievable,” he said.
Competing in only his 23th event in the World Cup, Braathen had a fourth place as his previous best result at the slalom in Kitzbuehel in January.
Braathen knew that the challenging Rettenbach glacier is a hill that suits him. Last year he wore bib No. 40 and finished sixth.
Posting the fifth time in the opening run convinced him even more that something was possible on Sunday.
“I went for it. I am not here for fifth places, I am here for podiums,” he said of his attacking second run.
His roommate in the Norwegian team, overall champion Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, was among the first to congratulate him, giving him a firm hug.
Kilde didn’t leave the venue, staying around to see how his teammate would do, despite failing to finish his first run. Kilde came wide on a left turn and lost his right ski when he caught a bump.
Last year’s winner, Alexis Pinturault, missed the podium by 0.03 seconds in fourth, while GS world champion Henrik Kristoffersen finished in joint fifth place with Loic Meillard, the third Swiss skier in the top five.
Ted Ligety, who won the race a record four times, was 10th after the opening run but the American’s left ski came off early in his second.
Tommy Ford, who finished fourth in Soelden last year and had two GS podiums in the 2019-20 season, has been battling both a shoulder and back injury during the offseason. He led the Americans in 22nd.
“I feel like I skied pretty well,” he said. “I’ve been struggling with my body, so it’s nice just to be on snow and have two decent runs. We have some testing to do, but otherwise, I think I was solid mentally, and with my skiing, and this is a good place to move from. I’m psyched to be racing again.”
River Radamus was next best for the Americans in 27th. “I skied smooth. I skied powerful. But I skied too round and left speed on the table,” said Radamus. “I feel happy with where my skiing is at and now I just need to make sure I’m taking it for all it’s worth and pushing the pace, pushing the line and taking more chances out there.”
With Braathen and Odermatt, who turned 23 this month, a younger generation occupied the top spots in the season’s first race.
“You can only dream of such a start to the season,” Odermatt said.
The GS has become a wide-open discipline since the retirement of Marcel Hirscher. The dominant Austrian won the GS season title six times in seven years before ending his career in 2019.
Last season, Kristoffersen scooped the title, but Pinturault, Croatia’s Filip Zubcic and Slovenia’s Zan Kranjec all finished within 30 points of the Norwegian’s tally after seven races.
The Russian team was excluded from Sunday’s race after coronavirus tests of two of its coaches came back with unclear results.
The team, including racers Pavel Trikhichev, Alexander Andrienko and Ivan Kuznetsov, was isolated awaiting results of retests.
No spectators were allowed at the race as one of the precautionary health and safety measures amid the pandemic.
The next World Cup races are parallel events for men and women in another Austrian resort, Lech/Zuers, on Nov. 13-14.
Soelden men’s GS, Sunday, Oct. 18