An icy track made for challenging conditions in the women’s giant slalom races on 22 January with nine skiers unable to cross the finish line at the World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia.
In the end, experience proved crucial as it were three Paralympic gold medallists who managed to conquer the track and stand on the top of the podium once again.
WOMEN'S SITTING - JAPANESE STAR CRASHES GERMAN PARTY
More than half the women’s sitting field was wiped out in the giant slalom final at Kranjska Gora, but the difficult course conditions were no challenge to the main favourites of the event.
As expected, it was German duo Anna Schaffelhuber and Anna-Lena Forster against Momoka Muraoka in the second run with the Japanese Paralympic champion taking the lead and upstaging what so far has been a Europe-dominated World Championships.
“I’m very happy,” Muraoka said after rushing across the finish line almost two seconds ahead of the runner-up Schaffelhuber. “I wanted to enjoy today’s race and to do my best.”
It was a second consecutive silver medal in the event for Schaffelhuber, who got the same result two years ago in Tarvisio.
“After run 1, I said, ‘OK, it’s only seven-tenths and I can make it up’. I thought I was moving a little closer to her, but the last punch was missing in my run,” Schaffelhuber said. “Moma was very strong in the end so she won it.”
Her teammate, Anna-Lena Forster, was a distant third, more than 13 seconds behind Muraoka.
“I’m not very happy with my performance today. I have a lot of time between me and first place,” Forster said. “Muraoka was very strong. I remember the first races in December where she was behind us, but she was very good today so congrats to her.”
WOMEN'S STANDING - BRILLIANT BOCHET
The icy course also wreaked havoc in the women’s standing race with defending champion Andrea Rothfuss of Germany crashing out in the second run.
The unexpected turn of events gave France’s Marie Bochet, already leading by more than 4.5 seconds after the first run, an assured path to victory. In the end, the Paralympic champion in the discipline finished almost 14 second ahead of the runner up Alana Ramsay and claimed her career’s 15th world title.
“I was under pressure today because it’s my own pressure,” Bochet said. “Every year I think I don’t do enough and I always think the girls progress more than me, so it’s never easy.”
“This competition I’m under pressure too but I think after today it’s better,” she added. “I can be more confident and I need to just be playful and just enjoy and not think about the medals and the titles because I always win when I am relaxed.”
Ramsay has watched Bochet dominate her class ever since she made her own international debut in skiing in the 2014-2015 season. However, the Canadian is confident that she can eventually knock the French ski queen from her throne.
“It’s just a matter of time and consistency and training. That’s what it’s going to take,” Ramsay said. “To be No.1, you got to put in thousands of hours and she’s definitely up there somewhere. I just need to put in more hours to get there.”
Meanwhile, Petra Smarzova put in a stellar second run to climb from sixth to third place in the women’s standing giant slalom. It was the first major podium for the Slovakian since she won bronze in slalom at the 2014 Paralympic Games.
WOMEN'S VISION IMPAIRED - FARKASOVA STILL ON TRACK
Smarzova’s teammates Henrieta Farkasova and her guide Natalia Subrtova left no doubt about their dominance in the vision impaired class in their first race at Kranjska Gora.
The duo successfully defended their title in giant slalom to start their quest for the perfect World Championships gold record that eluded them by just one race two years ago.
“There is a lot of experience that comes through in times like this,” Farkasova said. “It’s our fifth world champs so that helps indeed, but you always have to watch out for everybody else, especially the newcomers because they’re very talented, very driven, eager to compete and do their best. For us, there is also a challenge of trying to prove that we can still earn our place on the top.”
Australia’s Melissa Perrine and her new guide Bobbi Kelly kicked off their first World Championships together with a silver medal, while Great Britain’s Menna Fitzpatrick and Jennifer Kehoe got a second consecutive bronze in the event.
“I don’t think I ever race and don’t expect a podium, so we went out there and tried to put our best together,” said Perrine, who missed the last World Championships because of her studies. “We got a really good relationship, we get along awesome. We’re building on it and it’s getting into our skiing, so we’re getting more and more connected the more we ski together.”
“Henrieta’s strengths are that she’s such a good skier and she’s so consistent and I think anyone who can be as consistent as her is going to give her a challenge. We’ve been there before. We’ve pushed her before. We plan on doing it again.”
The action at Kranjska Gora continues with the men’s slalom races on Wednesday, 23 January.
You can watch the World Championships live on World Para Alpine Skiing’s website https://www.paralympic.org/alpine-skiing and Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/paraalpine, where live results are also available.