ST. MORITZ, Switzerland â€” There is a new downhill queen of the ski slopes. For now.
Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia is the new world champion in downhill while Lindsey Vonn took bronze trying to regain her title in another season disrupted by injuries as she targets the 2018 Olympics.
Stuhec confirmed her status as pre-race favourite, finishing 0.40 seconds clear of surprise silver medallist Stephanie Venier of Austria, who had a career-best downhill finish of seventh before Sunday.
Vonn was 0.45 behind Stuhec, who led at all but one time check and clocked the fastest speed of 125.6 kph (78 mph).
“I was not as confident as her and she outperformed me,” Vonn said of the winner. “She definitely deserved the gold medal today. The bronze feels to me like gold.”
The victory was a shared triumph for the Stuhec family. Her mother, Darja, is the technician preparing her race skis.
“I can’t describe it,” said Stuhec, whose mother began working with her after several knee injuries cost her funding from Slovenia’s ski federation. “It’s amazing where we have come since then.”
Stuhec kept the world title in Slovenia as she succeeded the 2015 downhill gold medallist , Tina Maze, who is now retired.
“I’m honoured to keep the medal at home,” Stuhec said. “We are not a huge nation but we have a lot of good athletes.”
In a breakout season, the 26-year-old Stuhec started by winning three straight World Cup downhills while Vonn recovered from breaking her right upper arm in November. That interrupted Vonn’s comeback from a knee injury one year ago.
Though Vonn quickly â€” and typically â€” returned to form in January by winning a downhill at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, she acknowledged arriving at St. Moritz below her best.
“I felt unprepared coming in but I did the best I could,” said the 32-year-old American, who set a world championships record.
She became the oldest female medallist , taking the mark from Anita Wachter of Austria, who won giant slalom bronze days before her 32nd birthday in 1999.
“I’m old and I’m proud!” joked Vonn, who was four career medals in worlds downhills. She won her only gold in 2009 at Val d’Isere, France.
Vonn might have missed the podium, finishing just 0.07 ahead of fourth-placed Sofia Goggia of Italy who was fastest at the final time check before losing her racing line.
Indeed, Goggia could have taken the title but relied on an agile recovery just to complete the course when her skis almost crossed. She shouted in frustration upon crossing the finish line.
“I saw she was crying and I gave her a hug,” Vonn said of the 24-year-old Italian. “She has many more chances.”
Stuhec fulfilled the potential she showed as junior world champion in downhill in 2008.
She never had a top-3 finish in more than 100 World Cup races entering this season. That changed with back-to-back downhill wins at Lake Louise, Canada â€” a course widely known as Lake Lindsey in tribute to Vonn’s domination there over the past decade.
The race unfolded under bright sunshine and some patches of light cloud, one day after the men’s marquee downhill was postponed by fog. That rescheduled race started one hour after the women finished.
Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press