Lara Gut bests Raptor downhill skiing course at Beaver Creek

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— Switzerland’s Lara Gut is on a streak, and the 22-year-old continued what has been a breakout season with a win at the first downhill of the World Cup season at Beaver Creek.

Gut sped to the top step of the podium of the Nature Valley Raptor race with a clean run in 1 minute, 41.26 seconds, a time that actually was about half a second slower than her fastest training run of the week Thursday. Known as a strong technical skier, she cruised through the tricky middle section of the course that was tripping up other racers all day. She said that while her race run wasn’t quite the near-perfect run she had during training, she was happy with the way she performed.

“The snow was a bit different today, but it was OK,” she said. “I like the snow and the slope here. Then you just have to fight. I had good training runs, but you can always make mistakes, and I didn’t want to do that. I tried to do it again today, but I wasn’t as clean on my skis. Tomorrow, I will try to ski cleaner.”

Handling the Raptor

The podium was rounded out by Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather in second with a time of 1:41.73 and Italy’s Elena Fanchini in third with a time of 1:42.24

Weirather was no surprise to appear on the podium after skiing strong the whole week. Weirather, the daughter of two World Cup and Olympic ski racers, made clean turns throughout her run, though not quite as clean as Gut.

“It was a bit rougher today, but I could still handle the Raptor, so I’m happy with that,” she said.

Fanchini, usually a skier who favors faster, straighter courses, said the result was a surprise to her. Her sister, Nadia Fanchini, also is racing at the Raptor and came in 25th in the downhill.

“It was special because it’s a challenging course,” Elena Fanchini said. “I wasn’t skiing that well in training, so I was not really expecting this. It’s a wonderful surprise and will give me a lot of confidence and momentum.”

For Gut, while she declined to name any goals for points or medals, the season could well be a big one for her that leads to the Olympics. Four years ago, she missed out on the Winter Games after a catastrophic crash (dislocated hip) put her off skis for nearly a year. Now, she’s stronger than ever and sits first in the points race after winning the first World Cup race in Soelden, Austria, in October.

“I crashed four years ago and didn’t go to the Olympics, and since then, I’ve been working so hard to be back. I had to build everything again, my body, my skiing skills, my feeling on the snow. Now, I’m feeling good,” she said.

Bumps and turns

The course Friday had been skied over significantly after three days of training. Many racers found that new dips and bumps on the already twisty run made staying on course and choosing the best line even more of a challenge. Those bumps got the better of skiers like the Americans Leanne Smith, who crashed on the final turn, and Stacey Cook, who barely stayed on her skis after chattering over several bumps in the middle of the course.

The conditions played well both for those who were able to handle the variation smoothly and those who went earlier in the day before multiple skiers wore down the course, accentuating bumps, ice and dips.

When asked if any of the conditions gave her any trouble, Elena Fanchini grinned and pointed at the “3” on her bib. She was the third skier down the hill, meaning she skied the course when it was fresh, she said.

While the best ladies on skis went head to head at Friday's Raptor, some of the talk still was about someone who wasn’t even in the race — Lindsey Vonn, who is recovering from a partially torn ACL. However, Gut said she didn’t consider her win any less of a win with Vonn’s absence.

“She’s a strong skier, but in the World Cup, it’s not only about Lindsey,” she said. “It’s a challenge even if she’s not here. (In 2009), I won two silver medals and then crashed, and nobody asked Lindsey if it was different because I wasn’t at the Olympics. If you win, nobody cares who is there and who is not.”

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