Val d’Isere, France – New Hampshire’s Leanne Smith parlayed an early start number into her first career Audi FIS Alpine World Cup podium result on Friday, finishing second in the Val d’Isere downhill on the Oreiller-Killy slope behind Swiss winner Lara Gut.
It was the third Wold Cup victory but the first in downhill for Gut, 21 years old and recently crowned the newest “Lange Icon.” Gut’s Swiss teammate Nadja Kamer rounded out the podium half a second back.
“I already said in St. Moritz that I felt a podium would come soon for me but wasn’t expecting it to come so fast,” Gut admitted. “Now that it has started, I’ll try my best to keep that pace. I benefited from a low bib number today and knew that the shortened course was going to be better for me without the flats in the top section. Knowing I had already got successful here in Val d’Isère in the past took some pressure off my shoulders and helped me as well.”
For her part, Smith was unfazed about missing the top spot and was ecstatic about finally landing on the podium in downhill.
“This is something that you dream about – that you put your heart and soul into it,” said Smith, from the Mount Washington Valley town of North Conway. “Every day you try to do your best. Some days it’s working better. Today was my day. I skied as hard as I could. I can’t express how awesome this feels.
“I’ve been on the World Cup team for a few years now and starting to feel comfortable. Hopefully you’ll see more of me now,” she added.
Smith, who started third in good visibility that deteriorated as the race progressed, led four Americans into the top 10 on a course that was shortened by officials after high winds forced a move of the start. Julia Mancuso, of Squaw Valley, Calif. was seventh, followed by Colorado’s Alice McKennis in eighth and Stacey Cook, of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., in tenth.
Lindsey Vonn lost her footing on a fallaway turn near the top and crashed hard into the B-netting, but skied away to the bottom of the course with no major injuries. It was the first time since 2007 in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, that the American champion did not finish a World Cup downhill in the top five. Vonn remained third in the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup overall and still leads in downhill standings with Cook second, Mancuso eighth and Smith moving into tenth.
“It’s just a mistake that every skier makes at some point with her inside ski,” explained U.S. Ski Team Head Coach Alex Hoedlmoser. “There’s a little bit of fall away in that turn and with her type of skiing where she’s pushing it to the limit it was just a touch too much there with the inside ski.”
Smith is now the fourth U.S. alpine woman to land on the World Cup podium thus far this young season.
“It has been the goal of the team to put everyone on the podium this year. We’ve seen in the last few years that they are top 10 skiers and the next step is the podium,” Hoedlmoser continued. “So far in speed we’ve had four different people on the podium so we’re on track with that goal.”
“The U.S. Ski Team is amazing. In every downhill, there is a new girl on the podium,” Smith remarked. “We put in so much effort summertime in the gym. It’s amazing to be part of a team like this – helping each other and hoping each other does well. My teammates know they can be on the podium too. We have a great coaching staff right now and a great set of technicians.”
The women race super G on Saturday in Val d’Isere. While sore from today’s crash, coaches expect that Vonn will be able to race.
“She hit the fence hard so she’s going to be sore,” Hoedlmoser advised, “but in general, she’s OK. We’ll see how she’s feeling tomorrow but I expect her to race.”
Audi FIS Alpine World Cup
Val d’Isere, France – Dec. 14, 2012
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