Scandinavian skiers led the charge for the podium on the first day of slalom racing at the World Para Alpine Skiing World Cup in Spain’s La Molina with Norway, Finland and Sweden getting milestone medals in the men’s sitting and standing races.
It was the tightest of races for gold in the men’s sitting class with two skiers, Jesper Pedersen of Norway and USA’s Andrew Kurka, tying for top spot after the first run with a time of 32.38 seconds.
While Pedersen pulled out another winning run on his second try, Kurka was disqualified for missing a gate.
The Norwegian struggled with the earlier giant slalom races in La Molina, despite coming in as the Paralympic champion in the discipline but succeeded in channeling his frustration into fast speed on the slalom course.
“It feels really good to be back,” Pedersen said. “Giant slalom these couple of days hasn’t been my thing, but it’s really great to be back and on top of the podium.”
Japan’s Taiki Morii and Austria’s Markus Gfatterhofer finished second and third, respectively.
From box to podium
Frances’s Arthur Bauchet continued his winning streak in La Molina, securing victory in the men’s standing slalom – his favourite discipline – to add to his two giant slalom victories.
“I love slalom so I’m better in slalom,” Bauchet said. “It was really good but my legs and I, we are really tired so it will be difficult tomorrow. But we are here for a battle so let’s go to battle tomorrow.”
Bauchet was flanked on both sides of the podium by Scandinavians marking their best results at the World Cup. It was the first silver finish for Finland’s Santeri Kiiveri and the first medal of the season in slalom for Sweden’s Aron Lindstroem.
Lindstroem was the runner up after the first run but exchanged spots with Kiiveri after struggling in the second.
“The run was pretty bad but when I came down and I was still on the podium, that was good,” Lindstroem said. “I’m still disappointed about my second run. My first run was good. It was a little bit too safe, and I think I have much more to give.”
That slalom feeling
Anna-Lena Forster was delighted to return to her favourite discipline after three straight silver medals in the earlier giant slalom races.
It has been almost two months since the German sit skier won the world title in slalom, but in La Molina she showed that her skills were still impeccable as she soared to victory over Momoka Muraoka. The Japanese star defeated Forster in all giant slalom races this season.
“It feels so good because it’s a long time ago that I won a race now,” Forster said. “I’m very happy and it’s good for myself to be back on top of the podium.
The USA’s Laurie Stephens finished third.
Paralympic and World Championships accolades were not sufficient to scare off youth sensation Veronika Aigner in the women’s vision impaired race.
The 16-year-old, with sister Elisabeth as her guide, overcame Paralympic champions and world bronze medallists to take their third victory in slalom this season.
The duo from Austria previously won two slalom races in Zagreb, Croatia in January.
“Yesterday was not so good because we were in second place,” Elisabeth Aigner said of the pair’s silver medal finish in the giant slalom race on Wednesday. “We are very happy that we can win this race today.”
Australia’s Melissa Perrine and Menna Fitzpatrick won the first run but were unable to hold off the Austrian pair in the second. Meanwhile, Great Britain’s Menna Fitzpatrick and Jennifer Kehoe fell almost eight seconds behind in their first run and ultimately finished third.
French elation and deflation
France’s Hyacinthe Deleplace and guide Maxime Jourdan erupted in cheers as their teammates Thomas Civade and guide Kerwan Larmet took the leading spot after the first run in the men’s vision impaired.
With Deleplace in third position after the morning, the podium looked poised for a French takeover. But it was not to be. As the top pair crashed out in the second run, Deleplace and Jourdan groaned and hit their ski poles on the snow, even though that moved them up to the silver medal position.
“We were crazy after the first run because it’s France and we’re first. That’s very good for the team,” Jourdan said. “We are happy to be second but we don’t like this, to be second when our friends are out of the run. It’s not a good feeling.”
The victory instead went to Slovakia’s Miroslav Haraus and guide Maros Hudik with a winning second run.
“When I’m trailing before the second run, I’m also more motivated to be better,” Haraus said. “I tried to be the best in the second run and I did it.”
The USA’s Kevin Burton and guide Kurt Grimmelmann took bronze.
France faired far better in the women’s standing race where the flawlessly victorious Marie Bochet brought her team yet another gold medal to extend her undefeated season.
“I’m very happy to keep enough energy to be here at every race and to win every time,” Bochet said. “This season was very difficult for me because it’s the one after the Paralympics and it’s difficult every time to start again and to want to train more and to continue to progress so I think this season was difficult but it’s very important for the next.”
Canada’s Frederique Turgeon and Alana Ramsay finished second and third, respectively.
The competition in La Molina will wrap up with the second slalom race on Saturday (16 March). You can watch the competition on the World Para Alpine Skiing website and Facebook page.