ALTENMARKT-ZAUCHENSEE, Austria (AP) — Lara Gut-Behrami's season finally saw an upswing on Saturday after two miserable months for the Swiss skier which included illness, a crash, and a coronavirus infection.
With her first event at the Beijing Olympics just over three weeks away, Gut-Behrami mastered a tricky course to win the fourth women’s World Cup downhill of the season.
“This is what I needed and I’m happy that I skied the way I wanted,” said the Swiss former overall champion, who has nine medals from major championships but just one from the Olympics: Bronze in downhill from the 2014 Sochi Games.
“My last two months were everything but good. I am happy that I’m getting back into the rhythm. It’s cool that I could ski on a high level for three days in a row,” added Gut-Behrami, who posted the third fastest time in both trainings.
Olympic champion Sofia Goggia had an awkward crash halfway down her run.
The Italian, who won the previous three downhills, got up and skied down the course shortly after the incident.
“I'm bruised and sore but fortunately intact,” said Goggia, who was included in the official start list for Sunday's super-G.
“I'll try to be at the start of the super-G, also seeing how I feel when I wake up,” she said.
Gut-Behrami timed 1 minute, 45.78 seconds in perfect conditions on the three-kilometer Kälberloch course to beat Kira Weidle of Germany by one-tenth of a second. Ramona Siebenhofer of Austria was 0.44 behind in third.
It was Gut-Behrami’s second win of the season but first since missing nearly four weeks of racing after a positive COVID-19 test.
“After (the season opener in) Sölden, nothing went as planned,” Gut-Behrami said. “I was sick in America, then I crashed, then I had COVID. I have been skiing like five days in November and three days in December, which is nothing.”
Battling a cold, Gut-Behrami finished 17th and 23rd in two downhills in Lake Louise, Alberta. She won a Dec. 11 super-G in St. Moritz in her native Switzerland but crashed in another super-G the next day.
Shortly afterward, a positive test forced her into isolation, and she returned to racing at a giant slalom in Slovenia only last week.
“I was always struggling to try to come back in shape. This is what I’m missing. I’m just happy that I’m already in the condition to ski well,” Gut-Behrami said.
“I’m struggling a little bit with the fitness, for sure, because I couldn’t really train. We have two weeks now which are going to be, for sure, intense, but what I need to get back into race modus.”
Downhill world champion Corinne Suter trailed her Swiss teammate by 0.99 in seventh and defending overall champion Petra Vlhova finished 2.27 behind outside the top 20 in the Slovakian’s first start in a speed race this season.
Breezy Johnson, who was runner-up to Goggia in all three events so far this season, sat out the race after hurting her knee in a training crash. Her American teammate, overall World Cup leader Mikaela Shiffrin, also skipped the event as she opted to train for upcoming races.
In a trademark gutsy run, Goggia led at the first two splits before she lost control over her left ski in the compression of a dark section of the course. Her right ski came off when she lost balance and the protective airbag under her race suit inflated before she hit the ground.
The Italian slid into the safety netting with the left ski still attached to her boot but seemed to avoid injuries. She sat on the course for a few seconds before giving a thumbs up.
Goggia won the last seven downhills she competed in and posted the fastest time in training on Friday.
Her DNF opened the way for Gut-Behrami, who won the two downhills last season which the Italian missed with a knee injury.
Gut-Behrami had a clean run on the challenging course, which opens with a 72% gradient, the steepest start section on the women’s circuit, where racers accelerate to up to 120 kph (74.5 mph) within five seconds.
Gut-Behrami was 0.34 ahead of then-leader Weidle but lost nearly a quarter of a second when she came out of her tuck at the final jump before the finish.
The Swiss skier earned her 34th career win and 12th in a downhill, putting her level with Italy’s Isolde Kostner in eighth place on the all-time female winners’ list of the sport’s fastest discipline.
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