Katharina Liensberger brought Austria’s gold medal drought in a Women’s Slalom event to an end after ten years. She broke the “Wunderteam’s” taboo since 2011.
By Daphne Seberich
Katharina Liensberger was the revelation of the Cortina D’Ampezzo 2021 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. The Austrian managed to score three medals throughout the two weeks of competition, two gold and one bronze. She beat favorites like Mikaela Shiffrin and Petra Vlhova. And by a lot.
The 23-year old Austrian dominated the race, serving over one second of advantage to second-placed Vlhova and two seconds to the favorite to take the title Shiffrin. An impressive accomplishment, considering that the Italian slope was very tricky to interpret and difficult from a technical standpoint.
Liensberger’s gold medal brought one of the most impressive medal streaks in World Championship history to an end. Mikaela Shiffrin was looking for a five-peat after winning the last four World Championship Slalom titles but had to be happy with bronze.
Nevertheless, Shiffrin was still the most successful woman at Cortina, winning four medals (one gold, one silver and two bronze). The American managed to be on the podium at every competition she competed in.
To kick it off, the Cortina Parallel gold medalist Katharina Liensberger set the fastest time of 48.48. With 30 hundredths of a second delay, Petra Vlhova secured second place, even after Canadian Laurence Saint-Germain crossed the finish line.
The favorite to win the race, Mikaela Shiffrin, had a troublesome first run, finishing 1.3 seconds behind Liensberger. The American superstar won every World Championships Slalom title since 2013, four titles in a row.
Second-ranked in the Overall standings of the FIS World Cup Michelle Gisin ended her run prematurely by straddling one of the gates. Swiss teammate Wendy Holdener dethroned Shiffrin from third-place by being 1.24 seconds off the fastest time.
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German Lena Dürr with bib number 10 managed to squeeze between Shiffrin in fourth and Mair in sixth to secure fifth place 1.96 seconds behind the provisional leader. Irene Curtoni, Elena Curtoni’s sister, struggled the whole way down the slope and crossed the finish line in 9th. After 15 racers, the tenth-placed athlete had over 2.48 seconds of delay. The impossible task for the second run was catching-up Wendy Holdener in third place to have a chance at a medal. Vlhova and Liensberger were just on another planet, having over 96 and 1.24 hundredths of advantage over the Swiss.
Italian Federica Brignone, unfortunately, didn’t perform well on home soil. She straddled a gate and ended her dream of winning in Cortina prematurely.
The surprises of the first run were Ana Bucik, placing fifth with bib number 20, and Asa Ando from Japan in eighth place, 1.97 seconds away from the fastest time. Camille Rast, who had her best career result in Flachau finishing in sixth place, impressed as well with bib 25. The Swiss youngster managed to squeeze between Buick and Dürr in sixth, 1.67 seconds behind Liensberger.
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The second run saw World Championships rookies Dzenifera Germane and Ali Nullmeyer ex aequo in first position until Parallel Team bronze medalist Andrea Falser beat the two by 1.29 seconds. Martina Peterlini from Italy then surpassed the provisional leader by seven hundredths.
The class 98’ athlete Elsa Fermbäck blew it out of the park with his run, taking over the leadership of the race. The best Italian athlete after the first run, Irene Curtoni, only managed to dethrone her teammate Peterlini from second place.
Slovenian Andreja Slokar, who qualified for the second run in 17th position, crossed the finish line with a 1.25-second advantage, taking over the lead of the race. Her impressive performance aided her to recover over twelve positions, beating athletes like Chiara Mair, Lena Dürr and Kristin Lysdahl. Even the surprise of the first run, Ana Bucik, was beaten by her teammate.
We expected Mikaela Shiffrin to go all-in, but she progressively lost her advantage over Slokar. She still managed to become the provisional leader with 69 hundredths of a second advantage over the Slovenian rookie. The American’s performance was enough to secure her a medal. Wendy Holdener, who placed third in the first run, lost all of her advantage, crossing the finish line in second place.
Slovakian superstar Petra Vlhova had a solid run, taking over the leadership with 98 hundredths of a second advantage over Shiffrin.
Katharina Liensberger proved that her performance in her first attempt wasn’t a fluke. Throughout her run, she continued to increase her lead over Vlhova. Crossing the line with a second of advantage, Liensberger earned Austria the first gold medal in the Women’s Slalom discipline since Marlies Schild (now Raich) in 2011. After over ten years of drought for the “Wunderteam”, Liensberger deservingly broke the taboo.
As the World Championships came to an end for the women, all eyes turn back to hunt for the World Cup overall title, which will resume a speed weekend in Val di Fassa.
Several questions surround the last part of the season. Can Lara Gut-Behrami maintain her momentum and go for the overall title? Will Vlhova find her second wind? How will Liensberger react to her new-found success? And what tricks does Shiffrin still have up her sleeve? These and many more questions will be answered in the last month of the season. Hold on for a wild ride.