Andrea Fischbacher got Austria’s "Wunderteam” back on track by winning gold in the Olympic super-G Saturday, denying Lindsey Vonn a sweep of the speed events.
Taking advantage of a tricky course-set arranged by one of her coaches, Fischbacher navigated her way down Franz’s Run in 1 minute, 20.14 seconds.
"It was really crazy,” Fischbacher said. "It was a really straight course and you had to push from start to finish.” Tina Maze of Slovenia took a surprise silver, 0.49 second behind, and Vonn had to settle for bronze, 0.74 second back.
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While many of the pre-race favorites struggled with a sharp right turn midway down, Vonn made it through that section without a problem. But then she lost nearly half a second on the bottom section of the course.
"Once I got past those difficult sections, I kind of backed off the gas pedal,” Vonn said. "I felt like I just didn’t ski as aggressively as I could have, and I think that’s where I lost the race.”
Vonn celebrated as if she had won, raising her arms in triumph, then was relaying a course report via a two-way radio up to her teammates still at the start when Fischbacher beat her.
Fischbacher looked like she didn’t believe it when she glanced at the scoreboard upon crossing the line, backing into the safety mattresses lining the finish area and nearly falling over.
"It’s just a great feeling,” Fischbacher said.
Vonn, who lives and trains in Vail, Colo., won gold in the downhill to open her Olympics and then wiped out in the slalom leg of the super-combined. Depending on how her bruised right shin holds up, the American still has two events remaining at the Vancouver Games — giant slalom and slalom.
Vonn was hurt Feb. 2, when she tumbled and slammed the top of her right boot against her shin during pre-Olympic practice in Austria. While other skiers were free-skiing the course Friday, Vonn took a complete day off to give her shin more time to heal.
"It’s definitely sore,” Vonn said. "I didn’t do the free-skiing on the race hill, which all the other athletes did. Maybe I should’ve done that, maybe I shouldn’t have. I don’t really know looking back what the right decision was. It definitely gave me time to get my shin better, and that’s what I need at this point.” Vonn started 17th, Fischbacher skied 19th and Maze was 22nd out of the starting gate. With the race beginning at 10 a.m. PST, most of the course was covered with shade for the earlier starters, while later skiers had better visibility.
Johanna Schnarf of Italy finished fourth and Elisabeth Goergl of Austria fifth. Super-combined winner Maria Riesch of Germany was eighth and Swedish standout Anja Paerson was 11th.
Julia Mancuso, the American who won silver medals in her opening two events, almost went off course on that hard right turn, and finished ninth. The Squaw Valley, Calif., resident was the first skier on the course and had no reference points to look to as a guide for the most treacherous spots.
"The course up top was a lot faster than I expected,” Mancuso said. "I was just carrying more speed than I anticipated into that turn. I knew when I crossed the line … that I blew it.”
Still, with five events remaining, the United States already has collected its most Alpine medals – seven – at a single Winter Games, topping the five at Sarajevo in 1984.
Another American, Chelsea Marshall of Pittsfield, Vt., fell and did not finish. She got right back, though, and did not appear seriously injured.
Leanne Smith of Conway, N.H., finished 18th.
It’s the first Alpine victory at these games for Austria, which entered the race with only Goergl’s downhill bronze. At the 2006 Turin Games, Austria won 14 medals — four of them gold.
Fischbacher was reduced to tears after placing fourth in the downhill, finishing only three-hundredths of a second behind Goergl.
"At first I was really sad,” Fischbacher said. "Then I was just saying, ‘OK, maybe I make it in the super-G.”’
Fischbacher’s coach, Juergen Kriechbaum, set the super-G course according to International Ski Federation rules that rotate the job to correspond with the higher-ranked super-G skiers.
While Vonn has already wrapped up the season-long World Cup super-G title by winning three of the five races held so far, Fischbacher stands third in the event standings.
Fischbacher won bronze behind Vonn and Marie-Marchand Arvier of France in the super-G at last season’s world championships in Val d’Isere, France. The Austrian also finished second behind Vonn in the last super-G before the Olympics, in St. Moritz, Switzerland, on Jan. 31.
Fischbacher has won two World Cup races in her career, one super-G and one downhill – the last coming almost exactly a year ago in Bansko, Bulgaria.
While she swept gold in downhill and super-G at last season’s worlds, Vonn doesn’t always dominate in super-G like she does in downhill. She went more than two years between January 2007 and February 2009 without a super-G victory before winning the final four races of last season. She also had some minor problems at the beginning of this season, finishing second and third in the opening two super-G’s.
Super-G is often tougher than downhill because there are no training runs. Skiers are allowed only to slowly slip down and inspect the course the morning of the race. Having the right equipment can also be more uncertain than in downhill, because there are fewer chances to test things out.
Maze won a silver medal in giant slalom at last season’s worlds and was fifth in super-combined Thursday. She has won eight World Cup races in her career but none in super-G, with her best finish in the event second at a World Cup race in St. Moritz three seasons ago.
Maze was pleased to finish in front of Vonn.
"She’s always first in World Cup and she’s always leading and it’s kind of annoying to be at start knowing she’ll probably be first,” Maze said. "But everything can happen and she’s human, too.”
Eight of the first 30 skiers failed to finish their runs, many of them going out on that tricky right turn about 45 seconds in.
Local favorite Emily Brydon of Canada had to stick her left ski high up into the air to try to get her balance back and ended up getting twisted around and falling on her backside. She appeared to avoid serious injury.
Marchand-Arvier and Nadja Kamer of Switzerland also went off course and did not finish.
Nicole Schmidhofer of Austria went down landing a jump and Marusa Ferk of Slovenia lost her edge around a left turn halfway down.
The next women’s race is giant slalom Wednesday.
"I’m really happy that we have three days before the next race, which is really going to help me,” Vonn said. "I’m not sure how many days of training I’m going to do, probably just one. That will give me two days of solid rest time.”