They might be giants: Sochi 2014 prepares for battle of the champions in women’s giant slalom
The women’s giant slalom, which takes place on the slopes of Rosa Khutor on 18 February, promises to be thrilling contest, with a field that reads like a who’s who of women’s Alpine vying for a place on the podium. Among them will be the defending champion Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany, who was just 19 when she won gold four years ago in Vancouver. She faces a tough task, with the likes of Tina Maze, Lara Gut, Maria Höfl-Riesh, Julia Mancuso and Anna Fenninger - all Sochi 2014 medallists already – eyeing the coveted giant slalom gold, not to mention teenage sensation Mikaela Shiffrin.
As ever, the giant slalom will be a contest between the all-rounders, who have already cut their teeth in Sochi in the pure speed events in the first week, and the out-and-out slalom specialists, for whom the Winter Games are really kicking into gear.
Viktoria Rebensburg, Tina Maze, Lara Gut, Maria Höfl-Riesh, Julia Mancuso and Anna Fenninger
The giant slalom course at Rosa Khutor may well favour the technicians over the speed merchants, with a technically challenging course, and conditions which are likely to be soft under ski.
What makes it particularly tantalising as a contest is just how open the field will be. The FIS World Cup circuit has seen the grand slalom events won by no less than five different women: the USA’s Lara Gut (Sölden), Sweden’s Jessica Lindell-Vikarby (Beaver Creek), France’s Tessa Worley (Saint-Moritz), Leichtenstein’s Tina Weirather (Val d’Isère) and most recently, in late December, Austria’s Anna Fenninger in Lienz.
Bolstered by their strong performances in the speed events, Swiss star Lara Gut (bronze in the downhill and fourth in the super-G), Maze (who won gold in the downhill after finishing joint first with Gut’s compatriot Dominique Gisin, as well as fourth in the super combined and fifth in super-G), and Fenninger, who was dominant in winning the super-G will all harbour strong hopes of making their mark in the grand slalom.
“I hope that I can experience the same feeling I did in the super-G and that I can cope with the pressure,” said Fenninger, the current golden girl of Austrian Alpine skiing.
There will meanwhile be an anxious wait to see if they are joined on top of the mountain by Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather, winner of the giant slalom in Val d'Isère this season, as she faces a race against the clock for fitness.
German pair lead the charge
Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg, who won giant slalom gold at Vancouver 2010, bounced back from pneumonia earlier in the season to rediscover her best form in time for Sochi.
Meanwhile, her compatriot Maria Höfl-Riesch, with two podiums already under her belt (gold in the super combined and silver in the super-G) will be desperate to add a first giant slalom title to her CV.
In the absence of reigning world champion Tessa Worley, French hopes will rest on the shoulders of rising slalom star Anémone Marmottan, who has yet to win a World Cup race.
Sweden’s best prospect of a medal will come from Jessica Lindell-Vikarby, a winner at Beaver Creek (USA) this season, and Maria Pietilae-Holmner.
Meanwhile, US hopes will be pinned on a mixture of experience and youth. On the one hand there is Julia Mancuso, a relative veteran at 29, who won giant slalom gold at Turin 2006, and on the other, 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin, who has shown herself to be a veritable slalom hotshot over the last 12 months. If she brings her recent form to the event in Sochi, Shiffrin could well upset a few of her older rivals.