Federica Brignone takes women's World Cup giant slalom, stays in hunt for season title

Italian skier Federica Brignone used a blistering second run to win the season's penultimate women's World Cup giant slalom Saturday in Åre, Sweden and stay in contention for the discipline title.

Defeats Sara Hector by 0.33 seconds; Mikaela Shiffrin plans to return to racing Sunday

Swedish women's skier Italy raises her arms in victory - holding her skis in her right hand and ski pole in her left - following a giant slalom race in Are, Sweden.
Federica Brignone of Italy needed to gain at least 36 points more than giant slalom standings leader Lara Gut-Behrami, and managed to do so Saturday in Åre, Sweden with the help of first-run leader Sara Hector. (Jonas Ericsson/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)

Federica Brignone keeps hanging on to her slim chance of winning the women's World Cup giant slalom title this season.

But the Italian skier prefers not to think about it.

Brignone reduced the gap to GS standings leader Lara Gut-Behrami to 95 points Saturday by winning the penultimate race, but she still needs something extraordinary to happen at next week's World Cup finals in Saalbach, Austria if she is to overtake the Swiss star.

A race win is worth 100 points, so Brignone will only take the globe if she wins that race and Gut-Behrami does not finish in the top 15.

"No, it's too much, but this is for the show," Brignone said from Åre, Sweden about making up the points difference in the last race. "I will just try to do my best and I just want to enjoy this as I did today, with no thinking about cups or anything else, just skiing."

Brignone won the GS title in 2019-20, the same season she also took the overall championship.

WATCH | Brignone captures women's giant slalom by 0.33 seconds in Sweden:

FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Are: Women’s giant slalom 2nd run

2 months ago
Duration 1:05:41
Watch the deciding run of the women's giant slalom race from the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup event in Are, Sweden.

On Saturday, the Italian used a blistering second run to win the race in two minutes 11.02 seconds and stay in contention for the discipline title.

Brignone needed to gain at least 36 points more than GS standings leader Lara Gut-Behrami did, and managed to do so with the help of first-run leader Sara Hector in Åre, Sweden.

Shiffrin recovered from knee injury

Hector, the Olympic GS champion from Sweden, finished runner-up (2:11.35) and pushed Gut-Behrami into third position (2:11.42). The Swiss star would have locked up the title if she had finished second.

Mikaela Shiffrin sat out the race after recovering from knee injury, but the American star plans to return to racing at Sunday's slalom.

A skier looks to her side.
American Mikaela Shiffrin, seen above in January, is set to return to competition on Sunday after missing six weeks due to injury. (Gabriele Facciotti/The Associated Press)

Cassidy Gray of Invermere, B.C., was the top Canadian in 15th. She posted a time of 2:14.07, 3.05 seconds behind Brignone. Britt Richardson of Canmore, Alta., was 21st of 29 finishers in 2:14.57.

Sarah Bennett of Stoneham, Que., sat outside the top 30 in 35th and didn't advance to the second run. Simone Wild of Switzerland was 30th, 54-100ths faster. Arianne Forget of Prevost, Que., was one of nine athletes to not finish the first run.

Gut-Behrami is also a strong favourite to win the overall title since Shiffrin didn't race in the past six weeks, and the Swiss standout holds healthy leads in the downhill and super-G standings.

The winner of the 2016 overall and four super-G titles, Gut-Behrami was reluctant to think about the finals, where she can earn four Crystal Globes, the traditional awards in World Cup ski racing.

"I'm going home first and that is a super feeling," Gut-Behrami said. "I don't like this weather, the last two-and-a-half weeks, it was always dark. Before I think of Saalbach, I rather look forward to a few days off at home."

The only discipline Gut-Behrami cannot win is the slalom, where Shiffrin is likely to secure the season title upon her return on Sunday. It would be the American's record-matching eighth slalom globe.

'I had no confidence' in 1st run

On Saturday, Brignone was 1.16 off the lead after the first leg. But with a gutsy all-or-nothing run, the Italian posted the fastest second-run time for her 11th career GS win.

"The first run, I was not really happy with my run, I started really bad, I had no confidence," Brignone said. "In the second run, I said to myself, 'OK, you have to try everything.' I tried my best and I'm so grateful and proud of what I did."

Gut-Behrami dropped to third after posting only the 16th-fastest time in the final run.

"Today I didn't have the right feeling in both runs. I cannot complain about the podium, but the skiing was not what I wanted," she said. "It's not an excuse, but this is not my favourite snow, a bit spring-like. I have a good feeling for a lot of things, but not for soft snow."

Opening the floodlit race in light snowfall, Hector was near-flawless in an attacking first run on a course she skied "countless times" when she visited the local ski gymnasium in her junior years.

"It didn't feel so easy, but it was good to start first," said Hector, who was chasing her sixth career GS win and first since triumphing in Jasna, Slovakia in January.

Weather conditions improved for the second run, but the race jury had already decided by then to lower the start gate, which reduced run times by more than 10 seconds.

Austrian skier Katharina Liensberger had a nasty crash in the first run when she skied through a gate and lost balance, then fell backward with her helmet hitting the snow. Liensberger, the 2021 slalom world champion, stayed down for a minute, but ultimately stood up.

With files from CBC Sports

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