Brignone’s ski title inspires Italians in virus epicenter

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              Italy's Federica Brignone celebrates winning an alpine ski, women's World Cup alpine combined, in Crans Montana, Switzerland, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)
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ROME (AP) — Amid drastic restrictions on everyday life in Italy, Federica Brignone’s overall World Cup skiing title provided a rare moment to rejoice for her fellow citizens.

Never mind the fact that Brignone clinched the coveted large crystal globe when the circuit was cut short due to the spread of the virus outbreak — preventing a possible comeback from American rival Mikaela Shiffrin.

“I was able to win the battle in my sport. Together we’ll beat this very difficult battle against the coronavirus,” Brignone wrote in a letter to her fans Thursday, a day after the races in Åre, Sweden, were canceled.

Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malagò tweeted, “Your season deserved a different finale but the emotions you gave us this year can’t be erased. Thanks to you we’re on top of the world, and your title should be an inspiration for all of us!”

The Gazzetta dello Sport declared Brignone “Miss World,” in a front-page headline Thursday, while national daily La Repubblica labeled her “The first queen” because she’s the first Italian women’s overall champion in the 53-year history of the World Cup.

In Italy, the center of Europe’s outbreak, new restrictions closed restaurants, cafes and retail shops after the prime minister imposed a nationwide lockdown on personal movement earlier in the week. Grocery stores, pharmacies and outdoor markets were among the few businesses allowed to operate.

With Brignone’s flight to Milan canceled, she was embarking on a circuitous route back to Italy: A drive from Åre to the nearby airport in Ostersund, then flights from Ostersund to Stockholm, Stockholm to Munich and Munich to Geneva. From Geneva, she was hoping to find a way into Italy by car through the Mont Blanc tunnel — if it’s still open. The tunnel connects France to her home region of Valle d’Aosta.

Brignone’s suitcase does not contain any crystal globes — even though she also won the giant slalom and combined titles this season — because the International Ski Federation did not have time to set up victory ceremonies before skiers darted home.

“I really want to experience hearing the Italian anthem with the globe in my hand,” Brignone wrote.

“I’m returning home and I know what awaits me and all Italians. I won’t be able to continue my job. While my rivals will still train and ski, we Italians won’t be able to,” Brignone added, referring to the closure of all ski lifts in Italy. “We won’t even be allowed to go to the gym. But I still feel fortunate, because I live in Valle d’Aosta and from my window I can at least see snow and mountains. It will provide a good opportunity to clean up my house and find the right place to put the globes, when they arrive.”

Brignone was traveling with her younger brother, Davide, who is also her coach, and was looking forward to reuniting with her mother, Maria “Ninna” Rosa Quario, a former racer who won four World Cup races from 1979-83.

It was a banner year for the Italian women, who won eight races — five of them by Brignone — and registered 23 podium results.

Still, Brignone’s title was in part a result of Shiffrin’s six-week break from the tour following the death of her father.

“The only regret is not to have won it on the course and not to have raised the cup with my team, because they would have deserved that,” Brignone said.

Norwegian skier Aleksander Aamodt Kilde is also yet to be awarded for his first overall title.

Kilde clinched his globe when the season-ending men’s races in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, were canceled Thursday; with the finals in Cortina d’Ampezzo already wiped out last week by the International Ski Federation.

The cancellations meant that Henrik Kristoffersen, another Norwegian, became the season champion in both the giant slalom and slalom disciplines by tiny margins.

Kilde’s runner-up finish in what proved to be the season-ending race — a downhill last Saturday in Kvitfjell, Norway — lifted him to the overall title 52 points ahead of French rival Alexis Pinturault.

Kilde succeeds Austrian great Marcel Hirscher, who won eight straight overall titles before retiring in the offseason.