Tessa Worley, the 2018 runner-up in the World Cup giant slalom standings and 2017 title winner in the discipline, started off her 2018/19 winter with a stunning performance in challenging conditions on the Rettenbach Glacier in Sölden, Austria, at the opening Audi FIS Ski World Cup. The Frenchwoman attacked the notoriously steep pitch through persistent snowfall to rocket from third place after the first run to the top of the podium in front of 10,000 excited fans. Despite 11 prior starts at the venue, it was her career-first victory in Sölden.
After finishing third in the first run, Worley charged down the bumpy track to hold on for her first career victory at the venue in Sölden. First run leader Federica Brignone of Italy made a few mistakes in the mid-section of the course on her second run, but found speed through the lower portion to hold off Shiffrin for the second podium spot.
"It was a huge fight, the slope was very bumpy, very difficult, we couldn't see much," Worley said. "I knew it was going to be a fight with the slope, and all the other girls, so I just wanted to charge and have no regrets at the end."
Federica Brignone of Italy missed 45 days of summer skiing when she sustained a strained knee ligament and bone bruise in a crash during super-G training in Zermatt. Despite her shortened preparation period, she skied the fastest first run in Sölden and followed up with an impressive performance on the second run as well in rugged conditions to claim second place.
The 2018 Overall World Cup winner Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. moved from fourth position onto the podium with a crowd-pleasing second run that kept fans on the edge of their seats. When she crossed the finish line with a near one-second advantage over the previous leader, she was in solid contention for the podium but still had to await the skiing of three more challengers.
Shiffrin (Avon, Colo.) opened the season on an emotional note with her 63rd podium appearance, finishing third on a very difficult giant slalom course on the Rettenbach Glacier in Sölden, Austria, Saturday.
Coming off a summer of media, sponsor obligations and on and off snow training, the defending World Cup champion also carried expectations that as the best ski racer in the world, she would charge out of the gate and win.
"There are still expectations, but I’m trying not to pay so much attention to like ‘why should I feel so, so disappointed,'" she said. "Especially because I had a podium today. Of course, I want to win, but there are many girls out there who want to win. I was able to start the season with a podium and it's a great thing. It’s not enough, but it’s OK for now and it's a good place to start."
"I’m trying to be a little bit more open to saying ‘yeah, OK, that’s what we have,'" she added. "I know what lessons I learned and I'll just fight for the next races."
"It’s always nice to come back to Sölden,” said Shiffrin, who won in Sölden in 2014 and now has four podium finishes in the traditional season opener. “There are always emotions like nerves, and excitement and uncertainty about how I’m going to perform for the race.”
Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany, the 2018 giant slalom title winner, slid from second position in the first run back to fourth place on the day, ensuring Shiffrin's podium and also an exciting battle between the world's best skiers that is certain to play out at future tour stops all winter long.
Austria's Katharina Truppe made the biggest leap of the day from bib 58 to 17th place, while her teammate Stephanie Brunner made a beyond impressive comeback from a torn ACL at the end of last season to finish in a tie for fifth place. Team Norway placed four skiers in the top 10, including Ragnhild Mowinckel who tied with Brunner.
Snow, sleet, and wind forced race organizers to move the race eight gates down to the reserve start, and conditions varied dramatically from the top of the course to the finish, providing an inconsistent, unforgiving surface.
Three other starters for the U.S. Ski Team finished the first run but didn’t make the top 30 to qualify for the second run. Nina O’Brien (Denver, Colo.) was 52nd, Tricia Mangen (Buffalo N.Y.) 63rd, and AJ Hurt (Carnelian Bay, Calif.) 64th.
The women’s FIS Ski World Cup continues Nov. 17 with a slalom event in Levi, Finland. The opening men’s World Cup giant slalom of the season is scheduled for Sunday on the Rettenbach Glacier.