ST. MORITZ, Switzerland â€” In a surprising start to the world ski championships, Lindsey Vonn failed to finish the super-G on Tuesday and Nicole Schmidhofer won a race for the first time.
Vonn arrived in St. Moritz with a women’s record 77 career wins in World Cup races. The 27-year-old Schmidhofer had zero.
Still, Vonn struggled to grip her right ski pole â€” a lingering problem since breaking her right upper arm in November â€” and seemed uneasy before taking a too-straight line and went off the course midway down.
“I feel like (my hand) is strong enough, then I’m in the course and I don’t know where my pole is,” said Vonn, who last won a gold medal at the world championships in 2009.
Schmidhofer had only one runner-up finish since joining the World Cup circuit in 2007, and even that super-G result was four years ago.
After crossing the finish line, the Austrian leaned back and screamed in joy when she saw she was 0.33 seconds faster than second-place Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein. Pre-race favourite Lara Gut of Switzerland, starting immediately before Schmidhofer, was third, 0.36 behind.
“It was surprising for me and I enjoyed the day,” said Schmidhofer, who doubted she would win with Vonn and others yet to start. “I thought, ‘Yes,’ this could be a medal, but not a gold medal.”
Like Vonn, Olympic super-G champion Anna Veith of Austria also failed to complete the undulating course.
Both Gut and Vonn prepared in less than ideal shape after crashing at the previous World Cup races in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
Gut, who won three straight super-G races to start the World Cup season, slumped in the finish area and shook her head after seeing she trailed then-leader Weirather’s time.
“It was my first run after my crash, so I’m happy I didn’t forget how to ski,” said Gut, who now has five world championship medals but no titles.
Vonn plans to change equipment tactics for the combined event scheduled on Friday and her signature downhill event on Sunday.
“I am definitely going to have to duct tape my hand to my pole now,” she said, adding that not to attach it was “too big of a risk.”
Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., was the top Canadian in 19th spot, 1.96 off the pace. Mikaela Tommy of Wakefield, Que., was 22nd, Candace Crawford of Toronto was 26th and Valerie Grenier of Mont-Tremblant, Que., was 33rd.
After bad weather wiped out Monday’s planned training session, all racers were getting a first good look at the course â€” and in a super-G race which rewards the ability to adapt at speed to an unfamiliar gate-setting.
Schmidhofer did just that and was the first to clock 100 kph (62 mph) at the fastest point of the course.
The result repeated a 2007 junior worlds race, when Schmidhofer edged Weirather for gold in super-G. In their careers, both have had season-ending knee surgeries after crashes at the classic Cortina course.
“We both had a tough way to go. It wasn’t easy for us,” said Weirather, who missed the past two Olympics because of injuries.
Weirather, also 27, won her first career championship medal at the same venue where Hanni Wenzel, her mother and an Alpine ski great, won slalom gold at the 1974 worlds.
“Everywhere I go, my mom has already won so it’s nothing new,” joked Weirather, who did win a World Cup finals super-G in St. Moritz last March.
While Vonn and six others in a 46-racer lineup did not finish, 18-year-old Sabrina Simader of Kenya came safely down in 39th place, 8.68 seconds behind.
Simader’s first world championship race was a big step on her path to starting in the 2018 Olympic downhill in Pyeonchang, South Korea.
Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press