On Monday, February 6, 2023, the first of 13 Alpine events started at the World Championships in Courchevel and Méribél. The first race was the Women’s Alpine Combined, which consisted of a Super-G run followed by a Slalom run. The event is typically dominated by the technical skiers, even after the format was changed from two slalom runs to just one a few years ago.
At the start were 33 of the world’s best skiers, including Mikaela Shiffrin, Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin, Wendy Holdener, and Italy’s Federica Brignone. All of them are race skiers who had podiumed in Combined at the 2022 Olympics or 2021 World Championships, so the field was strong, and competition was fierce.
After the speed race, Federica Brignone was in the lead by a solid 0.71 seconds ahead of Lara Gut-Behrami from Switzerland and Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel, who were tied for second. Mikaela Shiffrin was ranked sixth, just shy of a second behind the Italian skier, but placed well ahead of her other Swiss competitors, Michelle Gisin and Wendy Holdener, who were placed 14th and 15th, respectively. US race skier Isabella Wright was placed 22nd.
Unfortunately, five skiers did not finish the Super-G course, including Team USA skiers Breezy Johnson and Tricia Mangan, whittling the field down to 28 competitors.
For the technical component of the combined race, some of the strongest finishers from the Super-G run did not start the Slalom run, such as Ragnhild Mowinckel and Lara Gut-Behrami, both speed specialists and not tech skiers, who treated the first run of the Combined event as a training run for Wednesday’s Super-G race. Lara Gut-Behrami had competed in the Combined in the past but injured her left knee’s ACL at the 2017 St. Moritz World Championships while inspecting the Slalom course, which most likely ruined the event for the speed specialist for good.
With eight fewer starters for the second run, there were only 20 contenders for the title of World Champion. Mikaela Shiffrin was the favorite after a strong World Cup season across several disciplines and after winning the 2021 and 2019 Alpine Combined World Championships. The starting order for the second run of the Combined event was in the order of ranking from the first run, meaning Federica Brignone went first. The Italian expertly maneuvered the Slalom course despite having only raced one Slalom race this World Cup season, finishing in a total time of 1:57:47 minutes.
Elena Curtoni was up next, but the speed skier was not in her element on the Slalom course and finished 4.05 seconds behind teammate Brignone. Following her came Austrian Ramona Siebenhofer, who put down a solid run, sliding into second place a rather generous 2.48 seconds behind.
Shiffrin was the fourth starter, and all eyes were on the American as she weaved her way down the Slalom course. With two speed skiers — Gut-Behrami and Mowinckel — out of the race who had placed ahead of her in Super-G, a medal was undoubtedly in reach despite being 0.98 seconds behind Brignone, but would it be Gold? The American started picking up speed almost instantly, narrowing the gap to the leader steadily but confidently. She picked up more than half a second in the mid-section alone, narrowing the lag to 0.08 seconds, and the championship title was looking likely. But then, three gates from the finish, the American slid out slightly in a rut, forcing her to overcompensate and straddle the second last gate, causing an instant disqualification. The clock briefly showed a finish time of 0.34 seconds faster than Brignone before the ‘DSQ’ flashed up. She had been incredibly close to a third World Championship in Combined.
In an interview in the finish area, Shiffrin admitted to being upset but stressed: “I am really happy with my skiing. I knew that the only chance I had to medal was to basically take all of the risk. That is what I did, and it did not work out in the end. I am disappointed, of course, but I am quite happy with my skiing.”
Meanwhile, Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin, who had won Bronze just two years prior, refused all interviews in the finish area but later said in a Swiss TV interview: “I skied both the Super-G as well as the Slalom too tame. I just was not brave enough to risk it. The fear to be disqualified was too big.”
The same can certainly not be said for Mikaela Shiffrin. Race skiing is the art of skiing right on the edge of your ability. If you hold back just a fraction, you will miss out by valuable milliseconds. Skiing on the edge also means more possibility of a mistake that can cost you the run. At least it means you gave it everything, and Shiffrin gave it everything she had. Her disqualification happened because she wasn’t going for a safe run but for Gold. Today it did not pay off, but tomorrow is a new day.
So Gold for the opening event at the 2023 World Championships in Alpine Combined went to Federica Brignone, leading by an incredible 1.62 seconds ahead of the rest of the field. Silver went to Wendy Holdener from Switzerland and Bronze to Ricarda Haaser from Austria, who was somewhat of an underdog in this competition. Haaser had raced 149 World Cup events, six World Championship events, and Olympic Games without ever making the podium.
The next event will be the Men’s Combined on Tuesday, February 7, 2023. The starting list will feature tech specialists like Marco Schwarz, Alexis Pinturault, and Loic Meillard, who won Gold, Silver, and Bronze two years ago at Cortina, but also speed specialists like Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, who won Silver at the 2022 Olympics. Team USA race skiers are Luke Winters, Ryan Cochran-Siegle, River Radamus, and Erik Arvidsson.