Anna Fenninger wins World Cup GS on home soil
Canadian Marie-Pier Préfontaine yet to meet Olympic standard
Austria's Anna Fenninger used a flawless second run to win a women's World Cup giant slalom Saturday for her fifth career victory.
Cheered on by a home crowd of 8,500 in Lienz, Austria, Fenninger was second after the first run but overtook leader Jessica Lindell-Vikarby of Sweden in the final leg to win in a combined time of two minutes, 17.00 seconds. Lindell-Vikarby was 0.50 seconds behind.
"My preparation was good but I didn't believe I could win today," said Fenninger, who has made 19 World Cup podiums over the past three seasons, trailing only Tina Maze (37) and Lindsey Vonn
Canadian Marie-Michèle Gagnon finished 20th and Marie-Pier Préfontaine was 30th in the final ladies’ giant slalom Olympic qualifier.
Préfontaine, of Saint-Sauveur, Que., needed a top-12 World Cup result to guarantee her a spot at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games and she appeared well-placed after finishing 13th at the end of her first run.
A wild second run saw the 25-year-old slip back to 30th and she will now have to wait to find out if she qualifies for nomination to Canada’s team for Sochi based on her results to date.
Gagnon, of Lac-Etchemin, Que., was the first Canadian to meet the qualification criteria for Sochi earlier this season, but she also had a challenging day Saturday – finishing 30th after the first run before climbing 10 spots with a hard-charging second run.
“There are no more qualifiers left for MP [Marie-Pier],” said Hugues Ansermoz, head coach of Canada’s ladies’ team. “She has to wait and see if she makes it on the third criteria. Today she had a great opportunity and she really tried to attack. For sure we were hoping for a little better from today.”
American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin came 0.51 back in third for her second podium finish in GS after finishing runner-up in Beaver Creek on Dec. 1, and Austria's Kathrin Zettel was the only other racer to finish within a second off the lead, 0.96 behind.
Vonn skipped the race to rest her injured right knee ahead of the Sochi Olympics. It's the third year in a row that Fenninger has won a World Cup race on Dec. 28. She earned her first career victory here in 2011 and also won a GS in Semmering, Austria, last year.
"It's funny that I've done again on the 28th," Fenninger said. "I came here full of good memories and I tried to build on that feeling. I've learned a lot in recent years. I used to get distracted easily at races in Austria but now I use the home support as positive energy."
Weirather keeps overall lead
Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein came 17th but kept her lead in the overall standings with 609 points. Fenninger reduced her deficit to just 12 points while Lara Gut of Switzerland, who failed to finish her first run, dropped to third with 568.
"The overall World Cup is not really an issue now, although people keep asking me about it," Fenninger said. Julia Mancuso, the 2006 Olympic champion, was 4.51 back in 29th.
American teammate Megan McJames crashed after hooking a gate with her right ski toward the end of her first run but appeared unhurt. The Schlossberg course was hard to master. The day before the
race, course workers had to move 40 centimetres of fresh show out of the way.
Freezing cold overnight made for a bumpy surface. Many of the pre-race favourites struggled, with defending overall champion Maze coming in 15th and Olympic champion Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany finishing 24th on her return from a three-week break from the circuit due to health issues.
Shiffrin was fourth after the opening run to position herself well for a second-run attack.
"I felt like I skied pretty well," the American said. "Normally I am pretty comfortable within half a second [off the lead]. It's always better to come down and feel like you separated yourself from everybody but as long as I am in this position I can really attack."
Shiffrin dominated slalom races last season
Two years ago in Lienz, Shiffrin failed to qualify for a second run in GS before earning her first career World Cup podium in slalom the next day. Last season, she dominated slalom races, taking both
the World Cup and world championship title in the discipline.
Lindell-Vikarby wasn't upset about losing her lead and missing out on a second GS win this season after Beaver Creek.
"I am satisfied. In GS it's always tight," Lindell-Vikarby said. "I was on the right side before and Anna was on the right side today and she deserved it. I am happy to keep the red bib" for leading the GS standings.
The final women's World Cup race of 2013 is Sunday's slalom. The next GS will take place in Maribor, Slovenia, on Feb. 1.