Giant slalom starts off with near upsets

Bochet and Muraoka survive underdog threats in close fight for gold

© •

A fresh blanket of snow fell on the course in Veysonnaz, Switzerland, as competitors launched into a new fight for World Para Alpine Skiing World Cup points, this time in giant slalom.

The start of the giant slalom World Cup season served up a handful of surprises as several gritty underdogs emerged in leading spots after the first run. While the medal favourites were able to overcome the challenge in their second runs, they are now a bit more cautious going into the next two giant slalom races.

Women’s standing - Inching closer

Marie Bochet’s unbeaten streak almost came to an end in Veysonnaz as her long-time rival Andrea Rothfuss unexpectedly outpaced the world and Paralympic champion in the first run.

Rothfuss’ quick first run harked back to the days of the 2017 World Para Alpine Skiing Championships. Then in her top form, the German skier took two victories from Bochet, including in giant slalom, but has since struggled to mount the same challenge.

Beating Rothfuss in the second run, the Frenchwoman ultimately finished only 0.28 seconds ahead - an uncharacteristically small margin for a skier whose advantage frequently stretches into the double digits.

“I didn’t ski my best,” Bochet said of her first run. “I couldn’t find my confidence, my trust in myself, so I ski correct, but it’s not very good. That meant I needed to trust more in myself for the second one and to find something more in myself. Andrea helped me to find something more in myself.”

“It feels so good to be back and really close to Marie because the challenge is back,” Rothfuss agreed. “That’s what we both want to have, a competition, a fight. That’s what ski racing is.”

Fellow German skier Anna-Maria Rieder was third.

Women’s sitting - Optimistic grit

The women’s sitting race was expected to be a fight between Momoka Muraoka and Anna-Lena Forster, as it had been in the earlier super-G races at the World Cup in Veysonnaz and at the 2019 World Para Alpine Skiing Championships.

But Australia’s Victoria Pendergast had other ideas.

Her positive attitude paid off at the first World Cup giant slalom race when she surprised herself with a top time in the field. Pendergast had a wild first run, soaring in the air in the top part, but managing to hold on, and almost slipping at the final pitch before making her way over the finish line.

“For the first run I just wanted to let loose and ski how I know to ski,” Pendergast said. “I know I can be fast in certain sections so a lot of it for me is tactically working it together so I can finish a race.”

While Momoka beat her in the second run to take the gold, Pendergast still savoured the silver finish. Forster finished third.

Men’s sitting - Technically, he’s the best

World champion Jeroen Kampschreur scored another victory in Veysonnaz, trumping Paralympic champion in the discipline, Jesper Pedersen, on his way to the top and closing the gap to him in overall World Cup points.

With Pedersen promising, “I’ll get him tomorrow” as he skied away from the finish line, Kampschreur cheerfully responded that he is ready for the next fight.

“It motivates me a lot and I’m sure it does motivate him as well. We just want to beat each other,” he said. “That makes us push harder while skiing, so it’s a good thing.”

Pedersen finished second, just ahead of another surprise medallist of the day, Christoph Kunz. The Swiss skier, who has the highest level of impairment in his class, was second after the first run and ultimately finished third.

“It’s nice to be challenged,” Kunz said of competing with the the Dutch and Norwegian youngsters. “When I started skiing on a mono ski, they were just babies, so it’s nice to compete with them, but it’s hard.”

Men’s standing - On even ground

Arthur Bauchet took his third victory over Theo Gmur in a standout rivalry that has added extra punch to the World Cup in Veysonnaz.

The Swiss skier took the lead after the first run and looked poised to avenge his second place at the World Championships last month, but Bauchet’s second run was tough to beat. The Frenchman left it all on the course, even slamming into the boards at the end of the race.

“When I do a mistake on the slope, I say, ‘Theo will not do this mistake so go, go, go!’ It’s really good to have Theo for the fight,” Bauchet said. “I know that Theo will be there tomorrow and after tomorrow, so it will be a really good fight.”

Austria’s Markus Salcher collected the bronze.

Men’s vision impaired - Miroslav’s magic

The Slovakian party in the men’s vision impaired class continued with Miroslav Haraus and Marek Kubacka taking the top spots on the podium.

Both skiers were the first competitors of the day to go under a minute in their morning runs, and Haraus was the only man in his category to go under two minutes in combined time.

For Haraus and his guide Maros Hudik, this was the fourth straight victory after their hat-trick in the World Cup’s earlier super-G competition. World champion Kubacka and his guide Maria Zatovicova took silver for a boost of confidence after their two uncompleted super-Gs.

“Marek and I are very good friends because we have known each other for 18 years,” Haraus said. “Sometimes we talk about the race, but only in a good way because I’m trying always to compete as myself and not to fight against the other guys.”

France’s Thomas Civade and guide Kerwan Larmet were third.

Women’s vision impaired - Down Under on top

After an early missed gate in super-G the previous day that forced them to abandon the race, Australia’s Melissa Perrine and guide Bobbi Kelly regained their flow in the giant slalom.

The pair had two strong first run and sailed comfortably over the finish line to win the first giant slalom World Cup points of the season.

The competition continues on Saturday (9 February) with the second giant slalom race.

You can watch all the action from Veysonnaz live on World Para Alpine Skiing’s website, where live results are also available.