JASNA, Slovakia (AP) — A race overshadowed by a fall that left local favorite Petra Vlhova with a season-ending knee injury, but Olympic champion Sara Hector on Saturday took the lead in an eventful race. She won the women's World Cup giant slalom for the first time in almost two years.
Hector recorded the fastest time on both runs, leading American star Mikaela Shiffrin by 1.52 seconds. New Zealand's Alice Robinson placed third with a difference of 2.71 points.
This was the largest margin of victory in a women's Grand Prix race in 20 years since Swedish great Anya Persson beat second-placed Tina Mays of Slovenia by 1.98 seconds in the German race.
Race in front of 10,000 fans near your hometown in the Tatra Mountains of Vlhova I fell early on my first run and slipped into the safety net. Then he was taken away from the hill on a sleigh.
Her team announced that Ms. Vlhova, Ms. Shiffrin's main competitor in the slalom, had torn a ligament in her right knee.
In typical all-or-nothing style, Hector blasted around the course with two near-perfect runs.
“This is amazing. The snow was perfect and it was a great race. I was nervous this morning and I've been thinking a lot lately, but today was just crazy,” said the Swede. It was his fifth World Cup win in total, but his first since his last race at the GS in Italy two years ago. Before winning the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics.
Hector entered the final run with a one-second lead over Shiffrin and extended that advantage at nearly every checkpoint.
In an interview in the finish area immediately after the race, Hector addressed the many Slovak fans:
“It's amazing they stayed. So bad for Petra, but you guys are a great crowd,” Hector said.
Shiffrin beamed as she praised the winner, calling her “untouchable today.”
“It was just fun watching her ski. You have to take a step back and say, 'Wow, this feels good to watch,'” the American said, adding, “[I]don't want to ski on this hill. I skied the best I could,” he added.
The combination of the Lukova 2 course's slippery ice surface and unusually rotating gates created problems for many racers on the opening run.
Federica Brignone, who was at the top of the GS standings, opened the race, but slipped and fell at the fourth gate. The Italian skier was not injured.
Lara Gut-Behrami finished the race in 6th place with a difference of 4.49 points, taking the lead in the event rankings with a 25 point lead over Brignone. Shiffrin is in third place, 56 points behind the Swiss leader.
Before the race, Vlhova and Brignone were ranked second and third respectively in the overall standings, with Shiffrin in the lead. The American is aiming to equal the women's record of six overall World Cup titles.
“I think you have to have 100 percent confidence on this type of surface,” Shiffrin said, adding that even small mistakes “cost you a lot of time.”
Shiffrin credited Hector's near-perfect run, calling the course set for the first run “very twisty.”
“She obviously did a great job on her first run. She felt really good,” Shiffrin said.
The difference in the final standings was significant, with Croatian skier Zrinka Ljutic finishing fourth with a difference of 4.33 seconds. And finishing with a huge difference of 7 seconds from the lead was enough for a top 20 result.
Sunday's slalom race concludes the race weekend in Slovakia.
AP Ski Details: https://apnews.com/hub/Skeing