ST. MORITZ, Switzerland â€” On a bitter-sweet day for the home team at the world championships, Wendy Holdener led a 1-2 finish for Switzerland in the combined event and Lara Gut was airlifted from the course following a crash.
Lindsey Vonn was fifth after a gutsy slalom run left her 0.47 seconds from a medal. The American had been only sixth fastest in the opening downhill.
“No regrets,” said Vonn, the best-placed speed specialist in a race favouring slalom experts. “My downhill run was really solid. I’m really proud of my performance.”
Holdener, a slalom specialist, was 0.05 ahead of teammate Michelle Gisin, who took silver. Michaela Kirschgasser of Austria trailed Holdener by 0.38, and repeated her combined bronze from the 2015 worlds.
Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., was the top Canadian in sixth place.
“For me it’s a good solid result to have a top-six (finish) but I guess I was expecting a little more,” Gagnon said. “After the race I got quite emotional for some reason. I guess it was maybe a little bit of mental fatigue because I really was focused all week on this downhill business, which is not easy for me.
“But I think I wanted a little more. I wanted to be on that podium. I knew it was possible.”
The finish gave the skiing-crazed host nation its first women’s world title since 2001.
“It’s a good day for Switzerland. It’s nice to share it with Michelle, we grew up together,” the 23-year-old Holdener said. “I had a pretty amazing downhill. My slalom wasn’t as good as normal, then I saw other girls had problems, too.”
Gut had been favoured to end the winless streak but one hour before the slalom leg, the Swiss star crashed in practice. Gut ruptured the ACL in her left knee but opted against emergency surgery at the hospital in St. Moritz, the Swiss team said in a statement.
Gut, who won bronze in the super-G on Tuesday, had been third after the morning downhill. She will now miss the anticipated showdown with Vonn in the marquee downhill on Sunday.
The slalom run, raced through falling snow, flipped the standings from the downhill, which began three hours earlier.
First-run leader Sofia Goggia of Italy and second-place Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia failed to complete the slalom. Stuhec quickly went out after just a few gates.
Slalom racers were favoured by a decision to shorten the downhill course because of poor weather forecast for higher sections of the slope.
“I think then the slalom race should be shortened as well because it’s too big of a disadvantage,” Vonn said. “The first four girls are all slalom skiers.”
Holdener, who is third in the World Cup slalom standings behind Mikaela Shiffrin, was 0.94 off the lead in downhill.
The fact that Vonn was only 0.09 faster in the downhill was a surprise, and the American’s morning run came back to cost her. Vonn gestured to the finish-area crowd after both runs by holding out her arms as if she could do little more.
Vonn taped her right ski pole to her glove to combat handling problems that have persisted since she broke her right upper arm in November.
A major championship medal in combined still eludes her in six starts at the worlds and three Olympics. However, Vonn completed the event on Friday for the first time since the 2005 worlds.
Gisin was watched by her older sister Dominique, who took gold in the 2014 Olympic downhill in a tie with Tina Maze of Slovenia.
“She always tries to help me stay calm,” Michelle Gisin said of her sister, who no longer races. “She is a little more earthy and I’m a little more airy all the time.”
Shiffrin leads the overall World Cup standings, ahead of defending champion Gut. The 21-year-old American is now heavily favoured to collect her first giant crystal trophy next month at the final races in Aspen, Colorado.
“I hope this isn’t as bad as they’re thinking,” Shiffrin wrote on her Twitter account before details of Gut’s injury were known.
Shiffrin is scheduled to race in the giant slalom next Thursday, then two days later aim for a third straight slalom title when Holdener will be among her biggest rivals.
Valerie Grenier of Mont-Tremblant, Que., was 11th and Toronto’s Candace Crawford was 21st. Mikaela Tommy of Wakefield, Que., did not finish the second run.
With files from The Canadian Press.
Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press