“This is our home glacier”, said racing director Christian Mitter before the giant slalom, with which the women traditionally open the World Cup opening in the Tyrolean Ötztal on Saturday, the top dogs. It is the start of an Olympic winter in which fans are returning to the racetracks after a season without spectators.
Around 7,000 are planned for the women’s race on Saturday (10:00 a.m. / 1:15 p.m., live ORF 1), in which, after Marta Bassino’s double victory in Italy last year, ahead of Federica Brignone with Mikaela Shiffrin, Lara Gut-Behrami, Alice Robinson and World Cup Overall winner Petra Vlhova the “usual suspects” are the top favorites. There is a certain confidence among the ÖSV women that after only 15th place for Katharina Truppe, this time at 3,000 m above sea level, they will do better.
With five wins in the 23 races in Sölden so far, Austria’s giant slalom specialists are still in the lead together with Germany. The hope of being at the top again after six podium-free events since the last success by Anna Veith in 2014 are low.
“The plan is always to win. But of course that is very daring and not very realistic at the moment,” said Mitter. “But I would be happy if you can see that the girls want to win. Then we are certainly not far behind.” Mitter continues: “We have become more stable and have recently shown. I hope that it will happen again here on Saturday. In any case, there were great swings recently.”
The hopes for a top place are mainly based on third place in the World Cup, Katharina Liensberger and Stephanie Brunner. With two fourth places (2016 and 2017) and one fifth place (2018), the latter is the ÖSV driver with the most recent best Sölden results, but then suffered several serious injuries. “I am still not there to finish fourth, but to make it onto the podium. So I have some catching up to do,” said the Tyrolean (27).
Brunner and Liensberger have recently “matched” each other in the same training group. “I’m happy about it. Kathi can be incredibly fast. If you keep up with her, you know where you stand. She already rides a high level in training,” said Brunner enthusiastically. In contrast to Liensberger, Brunner has already achieved top positions on the “tough” racing slope in Sölden. And that “although I lose too much time up and down”.
Liensberger herself has her best winter behind her with two World Cup gold medals and the slalom crystal ball. “Sölden is always the first race and you have to be fully present right away. I want to do better than in the previous seasons, give everything right from the start and go to the limit on the steep slope,” the Vorarlberg native decided. “I know I can be very quick.”
Liensberger is very happy about the return of the audience. “It’s much nicer that way. I hope that things continue to be positive.” The patron hopes for a return to normality in health management as well. The constant corona testing is partly time-consuming, partly now paradoxical. Sweden and Finland, for example, have ended the pandemic. It was recently unclear how one would get the required PCR tests there. “I hope things will go back to normal very quickly,” said Liensberger. “The whole world would be happy if you got back to normal.”
Ramona Siebenhofer is continuing her three-discipline plan, but recently suffered a painful bruise of ankle. “On Saturday everything should be fine again,” the Styrian hopes. The troupe had no joy last year with 15th place. “I’d rather be tenth and third-best Austrian,” said the Carinthian, who had to end the season prematurely after tearing a double abdominal muscle and tearing an adductor tendon.
“I couldn’t even sleep for several weeks. The injury hurt even when sitting up and turning over in bed or while laughing,” recalls Truppe. “It took me two months to be free of pain. I’ve missed a lot, that’s bitter.” In Sölden she would need two dream runs to crack the top ten.
Bassino, on the other hand, could become the first female runner to win two Sölden races in a row. “That was a perfect start to the season for me last year,” said the defending champion. “Especially in the first run everything felt super easy. I’ll try to find this feeling again on Saturday,” added the Italian, who won gold in both Cortina and Liensberger in the parallel competition.
For Austria’s women, as I said, it is also about the eradication of the previous year’s disgrace. “We are better than 15th place”, Brunner is convinced and Mitter explained how things could go on the Rettenbach Glacier: “Up there you have to show speed, on the steep slope you have to unpack the ABC of skiing and down below you have to let it whistle. Then it will fit.”