Fischbacher earns her first World Cup downhill victory in four years
CRANS-MONTANA, Switzerland — Andrea Fischbacher of Austria was the surprise winner of the delayed women’s World Cup downhill on Sunday, claiming her first victory in four years.
Fischbacher skied down the new Mont-Lachaux slope in 1 minute, 34 seconds, beating compatriot Anna Fenninger by 0.15.
"It’s just a great feeling," Fischbacher said. "It’s been a hard time these past few years. I had some problems with my back and knee … I was always skiing but my head wasn’t free, I was thinking too much. Today it was just `go down and do what you can.’
"Today it was flat light so it was really difficult. You just have to let your skis go and go down really fast."
Fenninger, who is the only realistic challenger to overall leader Maria Hoefl-Riesch, instantly ran over with the rest of her teammates after seeing Fischbacher beat her time and the group fell over into the snow in an embrace.
"I thought, `what’s happening now?’," Fischbacher said. "And then I realized I was first."
Tina Maze of Slovenia was third, 0.47 seconds behind Fischbacher. Maze narrowly prevented an all-Austrian podium as she edged out Elisabeth Goergl by just 0.02.
Hoefl-Riesch was ninth as home favorite Lara Gut and Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden both skied out.
It was Fischbacher’s first win since claiming gold in the Super-G at the 2010 Winter Olympics. The 28-year-old skier’s success comes almost exactly five years after her last World Cup victory.
Fenninger moved 157 points behind Hoefl-Riesch in the overall table, and 80 points off the German in the downhill standings.
"It was a special moment because I was in the lead and had never won a downhill," Fenninger said. "But I was really happy for Andrea because she had a tough time and in the team you can tell she was really fighting for it. . . . It was a good race for me today for the overall," Fenninger said.
Thick fog had seen the race called off on Saturday and moved to Sunday, with the scheduled super-combined event canceled. Bad weather had also caused Friday’s second training session to be canceled.
More fog delayed the start of the downhill for 2-1/2 hours.
Goergl was 12th down and took an early lead, with all the favorites yet to ski.
Gut, who won Olympic bronze in the downhill in Sochi, was fastest in training and the Swiss skier made a strong start but skied off the trail as she tried to maintain her balance following a near fall.
Kaufmann-Abderhalden did the same as the pair failed to take advantage of Hoefl-Riesch’s under-par performance.
Dominque Gisin of Switzerland, who is joint Olympic downhill champion with Maze, also had a disappointing run and finished 10th, more than 1-1/2 seconds behind Fischbacher.
Fenninger looked set to claim her first downhill before Fischbacher’s surprising success.
There was disappointment for the American contingent in the first downhill after the Olympics.
The highest finisher was bronze medalist Julio Mancuso, who ended 18th, 2.34 behind.
"I was going for it and made some big mistakes. It happens," Mancuso said. "It was hard to see and the snow was difficult, it’s just a tough hill.
"It’s always hard to come back to a World Cup after the Olympics. But it’s also really fun and exciting and there was a good crowd here, so it’s fun to come back and race."
Only Mancuso and Stacey Cook qualified for the downhill at the World Cup Finals in Lenzerheide. Leanne Smith will join the duo in the Super G at the event.
"Each of these athletes has the ability to ski well on this type of terrain and in these types of conditions, but we just didn’t execute," U.S. Ski Team women’s speed Head Coach Chip White said. "We only had one training run and it was a few days ago, so that didn’t help, but it’s not an excuse."