The annual FIS World Skiing Championships kicked off in Åre, Sweden on Tuesday, Feb. 4 with the women’s super-G and a stacked field of competitors. Eyes were on American Lindsey Vonn, who announced prior to the World Championships that she would be making her final professional ski racing appearances in the super-G and downhill events in Åre before officially retiring.
There was also focus on two others. American Mikaela Shiffrin, who clinched her first-ever super-G World Cup win earlier this season in Lake Louise, and on Italy’s Sofia Goggia, who only a few weeks ago returned to World Cup racing after injury to snag a second place finish in both the super-G and downhill events in Garmisch, Germany.
With only three career super-G wins under her belt, Shiffrin was not necessarily favored to storm to the top of the super-G podium in Åre. But if there’s one thing the world should know by now, it’s that nothing is out of Shiffrin’s reach. The 23-year-old once again astounded the world with her ability to be perfect by winning only her fourth-career super-G race and becoming the 2019 Super-G World Champion by 0.02 seconds.
Vonn, on the other hand, had to bear another in a series of recent disappointments. The 2009 Super-G World Champion suffered a brutal crash in the top section of the Åre course. Though Vonn skied away from this one with only minor bumps and bruises, a DNF in one of her final two races was definitely not what the most successful female racer of all time was hoping for.
Recap: 2019 Women’s World Championships Super-G
The top speed ladies in the world assembled at the start house in Åre under bluebird skies but bundled up against the brutally cold temperatures. While the cold made for an ideal snow surface, many of the women wore tape on their faces to protect exposed skin from the bitter cold that would only become harsher as the racers launched themselves down the course at 95 kilometers per hour.
First down the course on the inaugural race of the 2019 Skiing World Championships was Switzerland’s Jasmine Flury, who has consistently been skiing around the podium in World Cup super-Gs this season. But on Tuesday, Flury failed to finish the race after missing a gate in the top section of the course. Flury’s difficulty with transitioning quickly enough between turns in the top section and skiing a high enough line to stay within the course was an indication of just how tricky this World Championships super-G course was—and explains why 13 other women, including Vonn and U.S. teammate Laurenne Ross, failed to finish.
Goggia started her third race of the season as the third racer out of the gate. The Italian tackled the difficult course rife with tricky compressions and three big jumps in her signature style: aggressively, and taking a very direct line.
While Goggia had no difficulty with the first jump and the following turn that proved too tight for Flury, Goggia made a significant error in the middle section of the course, losing her balance and momentarily skiing on only one ski. She was able to recover quickly though, and despite a completely open top cuff buckle on her left boot, finished a whopping 1.57 seconds ahead of France’s Tessa Worley.
That would prove to be the largest lead margin for the remainder of the race. Beginning with starter number 4, Switzerland's Corinne Suter, the margins of separation grew extremely tight. Suter, who’s just been missing out on the podium in World Cup downhills this season, crossed the Åre finish line just 0.03 seconds off Goggia’s leading time.
The next 10 racers, including Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg, Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel, and Italy’s Nadia Fanchini, finished within 0.20 seconds of Goggia’s time.
But then it was Shiffrin’s turn. Where other racers struggled with quickly transitioning from edge to edge after the first and second jumps, Shiffrin had no difficulty thanks to her technical skiing prowess. She was able to take a more direct line than all the previous racers, which paid off for every split, staying even just hundredths of a second ahead of Goggia’s time.
Despite a scary moment in the lower middle section of the course when a jump launched Shiffrin just a little too far off her line and she had to fight hard to make the next gate, the American was able to hold on to her marginal lead and crossed the finish line 0.02 seconds faster than Goggia to take her first Super-G World Championship title.
When Shiffrin saw her time and the leader board in the finish area, her reaction was one of utter shock and disbelief.
While those standings—Shiffrin in first, Goggia in second, and Suter in third—would become official, Shiffrin’s celebrations were short-lived.
Lindsey Vonn's Crash
Vonn, racing immediately after Shiffrin, launched down the course taking a page out of Shiffrin’s playbook and skiing an extremely tight, direct line. That line turned out to be too direct as Vonn took to the first jump with a gate set directly below it and collided with the gate’s panel midair. That impact threw Vonn completely off balance, and she landed hard on her already injured right side, losing a ski and sliding into the netting at high speed.
The race was immediately interrupted so course officials could attend to Vonn. Eventually, she was able to stand and ski away on her own two feet, crossing the finish line to a cheering crowd.
Teammate Laurenne Ross suffered a similar fate, crashing and failing to finish the course, though she came away from the crash uninjured. Alice Merryweather, however, competing in her first World Championships, finished the race in 22nd place.
“This isn’t going to sink in for a long time, this is crazy,” Shiffrin said after the race. “But it’s a really tight race—seven hundredths to fourth place, I mean, come on, sometimes these races are really tough and disappointing for many. All these girls deserve to win the race. That’s such a small difference, that’s like nothing…Super-G is tough. It’s one run, you kind of have to be perfect and take the risk.”
While Vonn definitely also took that risk, Tuesday’s race didn’t reward her. “When I said I wanted to make memories in my final races this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind,” Vonn posted on Instagram after the race.
“Thankful that nothing worse happened; just a black eye, sore ribs and stiff neck…Still one more chance on Sunday in the Downhill, my final race. Knocked down 999 times, stand up 1000.”
Paris Wins Men's Super-G
Italian Domonik Paris continued his winning ways in Åre by squeaking out a win ahead of France's Johan Clarey and Austrian Vincent Kriechmayr with a 0.09 second advantage. Clarey and Kriechmayer tied for second. Coming off wins in the downhill and super-G in Kitzbühel, Paris seems to be peaking at an ideal point in the season, as he's now in fourth for the World Cup overall title, third in the World Cup super-G points list, and second in the downhill standings.
Read more: Paris Reigns in Kitzbühel
The Americans had a solid showing in the World Championship Super-G, led by Steven Nyman finishing in a three-way tie for eighth, 0.50 seconds behind Paris. Ryan Cochran-Siegle finished in 11th, 0.53 seconds behind the winner, and Bryce Bennett finished in the 23rd spot, 1.62 seconds back.
“I’ve been feeling really rusty since Wengen and banging my head,” Nyman told U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “I was going through the concussion protocol, and my body just hasn’t felt that great. But when I got on this snow and I started, I was like ‘Wow! This feels awesome!’"
Coming up in the 2019 World Alpine Skiing Championships
As Vonn prepares for the downhill on Sunday, Feb. 10, Shiffrin is setting her sights on her next World Championships gold in the giant slalom event on Feb. 14 and opting to skip the downhill and Alpine Combined disciplines of this World Championships.
“I have been going back and forth on this decision so much, it feels like a game of ping pong in my head,” Shiffrin shared on Instagram. “But my team and I have finally decided that competing in AC will be too much to manage in this World Championships. This season has already been beyond my wildest dreams and it still isn’t over…We believe the slalom and GS is where I need to focus my energy now, so for that reason, I will not start AC (or downhill but I think everyone knew that already).”