Women’s giant slalom features plenty of contenders
Germany's Rebensburg looks to repeat
Viktoria Rebensburg will look to become just the second woman ever to repeat as Olympic giant slalom champion on Tuesday as the alpine skiing scene shifts to the technical races in Sochi.
The women’s side has seen it all so far through three races, including an unprecedented first-place tie in the downhill and a tricky super-G course on soft snow that saw several competitors ski off course.
But for the most part, the top women in the world have something to show for their toil. Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, Anna Fenninger of Austria and Tina Maze of Slovenia all have secured gold medals.
The lone exception from the top five of the World Cup standings who is still healthy is Lara Gut. The Swiss skier won bronze in last week’s downhill but then complained loudest about the super-G, deeming it a “disaster.”
In case you were wondering, Gut finished just off the podium in the dreaded fourth spot.
Gut is one of five separate winners of giant slalom races this season, but only three will compete up on Rosa Khutor. Tessa Worley of France tore knee ligaments before the Winter Games, while Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein suffered a deep bone bruise in training at Sochi.
The other two winners were Fenninger and Jessica Lindell-Vikarby, who has been the proverbial late bloomer in terms of top results. The 30-year-old Swede has amassed half of her six World Cup podium finishes this season, all in the giant slalom.
Maze doesn’t have a GS win this season, but took silver in the running of the race at the Vancouver Olympics. She also dominated the discipline in 2012-13, with five wins, three silver and a bronze in nine races.
Rebensburg won the discipline in each of the two seasons before Maze did, a result portended by her GS victory at just 20 years of age at the Vancouver Games.
The German has just one bronze as far as podium results this season, in part due to a bout of pneumonia. But with top-20 showings in Sochi in the downhill and super-combi, she looks to be a viable contender again, a description that could also fit the 2010 Olympic bronze medallist in the GS, Liz Goergl of Austria, as well as Maria Pietilä Holmner of Sweden.
Kathrin Zettel of Austria finished fifth in the Vancouver Games giant slalom, and has somehow never won the World Cup discipline title, despite 40 podium finishes by the age of 27 that are almost evenly divided between slalom and giant slalom.
The x-factor will be teenager Mikaela Shiffrin, making her Olympic debut. The 18-year-old American is last season’s slalom discipline champ, but served notice this season that she’s no one-trick pony with a pair of GS podium finishes.
Now that Jan Hudec of Calgary has ended a 20-year Olympic medal drought for Canada, Marie-Michèle Gagnon perhaps can relax and build momentum towards the slalom later in the week.
The Lac-Etchemin, Que., native, who dislocated her shoulder last week, does have a handful of top-10 finishes in the GS, but usually outside of the top five. It would seem, based on previous World Cup results, that the slalom would better favour the 24-year-old.
The women’s slalom takes place on Friday.
Erin Mielzynski of Guelph, Ont., makes her race debut in Sochi, while Marie-Pier Prefontaine of Saint-Saveur, Que., returns after finishing 20th in the super-G.
The last Canadian woman to win an Olympic medal was Kerrin Lee-Gartner, gold winner in the 1992 Albertville downhill.
The lone woman to repeat as Olympic GS champ was Deborah Compagnoni of Italy in 1994 and 1998.