By Simon Evans
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – A glance at the form book and women’s downhill race at the Pyeongchang Olympics looks all about Lindsey Vonn v Sofia Goggia.
The American Queen of the Slopes, looking for her second Olympic downhill gold before she bows out of the Games, up against the carefree 25-year-old Italian upstart.
The bookmakers agree and the World Cup standings, where Goggia narrowly leads from Vonn, also suggests a duel between the pair.
Vonn, 33, won the last time the pair went head-to-head in a World Cup race in Garmisch earlier this month with Goggia finishing second.
Before that though Goggia, the speed specialist from Bergamo, triumphed over the American in Bad Kleinkirchheim and the pair shared a victory each in two downhills in Cortina d’Ampezzo.
Vonn has added to the sense of this being a head-to-head battle by talking this week about how she watches film of Goggia’s line in training and makes appropriate adjustments.
Goggia played into the talk of a ‘double billing’ by calling Vonn the “favorite”.
But downhill skiing has a habit of producing the unexpected.
Look back just four years ago to the race in Sochi and — for the first time in the history of the event there was a tie for gold.
Switzerland’s Dominique Gisin and Slovenia’s Tina Maze shared the top spot on the podium with Swiss Lara Gut taking the bronze.
While Gisin and Maze have retired, Gut is back and desperate to end her run of near-misses, which included a fourth-place in the super-G, where she was knocked off the podium unexpectedly by the shock, late, winning run of Czech Ester Ledecka.
It is exactly one year since Gut underwent knee surgery after damaging her ACL but she says she is in a positive mood.
“The challenge mentally is not to get back to the level you were before but – to take the new things you learned through your injury and match that together with the person you were before,” she said after training this week.
“I had things where I was stronger before my injury and I have things where I’m a lot stronger now. Then you have to combine everything and in the end realize, it’s just yourself. And it’s enough.”
Austria’s Anna Veith and Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather showed their speed and comfort with the course by picking up silver and bronze in the super-G here on Saturday.
Weirather’s mother, Hanni Wenzel, won downhill silver in Lake Placid in 1980 and remains the only Alpine skier from Liechtenstein, male or female, to claim a medal in the downhill.
As always Austria has a challenger with Cornelia Huetter’s win at Lake Louise on the World Cup circuit in December, a warning that she could be an outside threat, as could Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin.
(Reporting by Simon Evans)