Lake Louise was unusually harsh on Lindsey Vonn in the first women’s World Cup downhill of the season Friday.
Her American teammate Mikaela Shiffrin fared much better.
In the lead by five hundredths of a second, Vonn crashed within sight of the finish line on the Alberta mountain where she owns 18 World Cup victories. She was able to get up and ski into the finish area.
Shiffrin, the reigning world and Olympic slalom champion, earned a bronze medal racing just the third downhill of her career.
“I’m still not sure what my expectations are in downhill and today was an amazing day,” Shiffrin said.
Cornelia Huetter of Austria earned the first downhill victory of her career in a time of one minute 48.53 seconds.
Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein was second in 1:48.62 and Shiffrin third in 1:48.83. Valerie Grenier of Mont-Tremblant, Que., was the top Canadian in 32nd.
Huetter suffered a knee injury in January, which sidelined her the remainder of last season.
“It’s unbelievable,” Huetter said. “It’s my first race after the injury, so it’s my comeback and it’s the best comeback I’ve ever dreamed about.”
Vonn tumbled into the safety nets on the final turn called “Claire’s Corner”, where Canada’s Marie-Michele Gagnon also fell in Friday’s training.
The 28-year-old from Lac-Etchemin, Que., separated her shoulder and hyperextended her knee flying into those same nets. Gagnon will not race the second downhill Saturday or Sunday’s super-G.
In took Vonn some time to detangle from the nets. She gave spectators a weak wave in the finish area.
“The crash looked terrible, so we’re all really, really thankful she’s OK,” Shiffrin said. “She’s been training, she’s been healthy more or less, so she’s fully at capacity to win these races.”
Vonn did not speak to media and declined autograph-seekers saying “I have to go ice my hip.”
She later tweeted: “Well that hurt… had a nice lead the whole down but caught my inside ski.
“I’ll be sore tomorrow but will rest up tonight and barring anything major I will be racing. Can’t keep me down!”
Shiffrin had raced just two World Cup downhills prior to Friday. Both were in Lake Louise in 2016 when she placed 13th and 18th.
Winner of the overall World Cup title last season, the 22-year-old is considered the heir apparent to Vonn as the world’s female ski star.
“I’ve definitely made a lot of progress in my downhill,” Shiffrin said. “Super-G comes a little bit more naturally because there’s a little bit more turning.
“Downhill, I’m always surprised at how much time there is to make the turns. That’s something I’ve worked on a lot, being a little more patient.”
Vonn has won 14 downhills and four super-G races at the resort west of Calgary dubbed “Lake Lindsey.” The 33-year-old couldn’t race on her favourite course a year ago because of a broken arm.
Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec won both Lake Louise downhills in Vonn’s absence last year.
The reigning women’s world downhill champion isn’t back to defend because Stuhec tore ligaments in her knee while training in October.
Meanwhile, Gagnon wrote on her Instagram account that in addition to her dislocated shoulder and stitches in her wrist, she was undergoing magnetic resonance imaging on her knee Friday.
“Nothing too major that would mean season ending,” she wrote. “I will be doing some temporary rehab in the meantime.
“I am looking forward to be back. Hope it won’t be too long.”
An early start number was an advantage Friday as snowfall increased and visibility diminished throughout the afternoon.
“When you looked down from the start you were like ‘oh my god, you can’t see anything,” Weirather said. “While skiing, it was actually better because we were in the forest and had some contrast.”
The final turn was problematic for a few skiers, including Weirather, who slipped coming out of that turn.
“That cost me the win,” she said. “That’s a pity because I was really close and it would have been my first win here.”
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press