The first (and only) Women’s Parallel Giant-Slalom World Cup took place in brutal, blizzard-like conditions on November 13th. The second of seven Austrian alpine World Cup stops, Lech / Zuers (near St. Anton) challenged the 46 athletes to a 19 gate course over a 102m (335ft) vertical pitch. Despite World Cup overall points being on the line, American star Mikaela Shiffrin led a group of notable absences which also included Slovakian rival Petra Vlhova and Kiwi Alice Robinson. Shiffrin elected to skip the parallel race to focus on recovering a nagging back injury and be in form for the upcoming Slalom opener in Levi, Finland.
These absences opened the door for some new faces to emerge on the world cup podium. A long-run qualifying session earlier in the day was riddled with weather issues and technical malfunctions on the starting gate. Unfortunately, the three American athletes failed to qualify for the 16-athlete final with A. J. Hurt from California leading the team in 26th, 1.61s behind top qualifier Thea Louise Stjernesund from Norway. Lara Gut-Behrami of Switzerland qualified 8th and last year’s Giant Slalom Crystal Globe winner Marta Bassino of Italy qualified 5th.
With the floodlights focused on the pitch, one of a few night races kicked off at 5 pm local time. The qualifying front runners Stjernesund, K. Lysdahl (NOR), and Andreja Slokar of Slovenia quickly showed themselves as favourites after close, but impressive wins in the round of 16. Austrian home favourite Katharina Liensberger was 0.03s behind Swedish opponent Sara Hector, but ultimately missed a gate after a mistake in the second run and would have to settle for 16th. Both Austrians would be eliminated in the first round, with Eliza Moerzinger also making a mistake in her bout with Slovenia’s Tina Robnik. Fan favourite Lara Gut-Behrami (SUI) also bowed out after losing the outside ski in the 2nd run. Gut-Behrami ended the day 15th, gaining 16 World Cup points.
The main event came down to the top two qualifiers in the big final. Mistakes in the semi-final by Marta Bassino and Kristin Lysdahl allowed Andreja Slokar and Thea Stjernesund to secure themselves as world cup podium sitters for the first time in their careers. The race for victory came to be extremely close. With both athletes searching for maiden wins, both ran exceptional heats.
Stjernesund managed an early advantage, coming across the line 0.12s ahead of Slokar in the first. A strong start and exceptional skiing through the middle flat section of the course allowed Slokar to crawl back during the 2nd run, with a near-tie at the finish line. With a total time one one-hundredth of a second faster than her qualifying runs, Andreja Slokar beat the Norweigan by 0.05s in what was the closest heat of the evening. Slokar became the 251st individual athlete to win a women’s alpine World Cup. Kristin Lydahl would defeat Marta Bassino in the small final, to round out the podium in 3rd and put Norway 2nd in the Nation’s Cup.
The FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup continues to Levi, Finland for two Women’s Slalom races on November 20th & 21st. The men’s speed season kicks off with a Downhill on November 26th in Lake Louise, Canada.
Full race results can be found at fis-ski.com