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Cortina d’Ampezzo (BL), 18 February 2021 – Lara Gut-Behrami (SUI) denied reigning Olympic champion Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) at first giant slalom world title as she took gold by just two-hundredths of a second on Thursday afternoon.
Austria’s Katharina Liensberger, the women’s parallel giant slalom champion, was a further seven-hundredths back in bronze medal position after a riveting day’s racing.
Shiffrin led the field following a typically aggressive yet tactically astute first run, but there was no stopping an in-form Gut-Behrami. The Swiss skier arrived in Cortina D’Ampezzo having not won a single gold medal during the course of six world championships and two Olympic Games, but now has two in seven days.
“It was just an amazing day for me, and unexpected. In the super-G I had a lot of pressure,” said Gut-Behrami, who won the opening speed event at these World Championships before adding downhill bronze two days later.
“When Mikaela crossed the finish line, I thought she had won. So, it was more surprising for me.”
Shiffrin was less shocked. Despite the 29-year-old Gut-Behrami only claiming her first giant slalom World Cup podium for four years in the final event before Cortina 2021, the USA’s most successful world championship skier always had her eye on her Swiss rival.
“She’s so strong. She’s been strong the whole world champs and really the whole season. It’s really cool to watch her skiing and she’s bringing this amazing attitude, every race taking the right risk and having really good skiing,” said Shiffrin who now has an extraordinary 10 World Championship medals from 12 starts.
“It’s really fun to compete with her right now.”
Fourth after the first run, Liensberger nearly denied both Gut-Behrami and Shiffrin. Although she was also perilously close to a wet, snowy end to her day.
“I was nearly out of the course,” laughed Liensberger, after her right arm and hip touched down halfway through her aggressive second run. “I skied with my heart, with full one hundred per cent.”
Shiffrin’s close friend and teammate, Nina O’Brien can certainly say the same. The 23-year-old had a best ever World Cup finish of 13th in the giant slalom but looked set to pull off the shock of the championships.
O’Brien, who wore bib no.19, flew down the dynamic, twisty first run to grab second place behind Shiffrin having, as she put it, “attacked the entire thing”. The same approach looked like paying off in the second run, with O’Brien right in the hunt until running out of steam on the final roller.
While that left the inexperienced youngster in a still highly creditable 10th, the way was open for teenager Alice Robinson to confirm her potential. The New Zealander, who won two giant slalom World Cup titles in a thrilling debut season in 2019/20, produced two classy runs to finish in fourth.
“It’s bittersweet. It’s my best result of the season, but also quite disappointing when you’re fourth and just missing the medals,” Robinson said.
Defending champion Petra Vlhova (SVK) was somewhat more disappointed. Heavy on the skis in her first run, she was unable to make up more than a second on the leaders in the afternoon run, despite the course being set by her coach.
It was also another dark day for the host nation. After winning four of the six World Cup giant slalom races this season, Italy was looking to Marta Bassino to add giant slalom gold to her parallel giant slalom triumph. But the season’s ranking leader was off-colour from the gate and finished a lowly 13th.
The women race for the final time on Saturday in the slalom, with Shiffrin the favourite to go one better.