Road To The Olympic Games

Slovenia's Ilka Stuhec posts breakout win in Lake Louise

Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia claimed the first World Cup victory of her career by winning the season-opening women's downhill at the Lake Louise Ski Resort on Friday.

Canada's Valerie Grenier finishes 28th as women's ski season opens

Slovenia's Ilka Stuhec celebrates her win in the women's World Cup downhill at Lake Louise, Alta., on Friday. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The downhill queen's absence from Lake Louise made room for other women to stand on the medal podium for the first time in their lives.

Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia claimed the first World Cup victory of her career Friday in the season-opening women's downhill. It was the first World Cup medal in any discipline for the 26-year-old from Maribor.

"It's the first one, but I definitely hope it's not the last one," Stuhec said after the Slovenian anthem played at the Alberta ski resort.

Runner-up Sofia Goggia of Italy and bronze-medallist Kajsa Kling of Sweden earned their first downhill podiums. Valerie Grenier of Mont-Tremblant, Que., was the top Canadian in 28th.

Vonn's absence opens door

American ski star Lindsey Vonn, winner of seven of the last eight downhills in Lake Louise, broke her arm in training last month. She told Eurosport earlier this week she hopes to return to racing "some time in January."

In the meantime, her competitors will chase downhill points for overall titles and crystal globes at season's end.

Defending overall World Cup champion Lara Gut of Switzerland finished fourth Friday. Reigning Olympic slalom champion Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. was 18th in her World Cup downhill debut.

The men's World Cup scheduled for Lake Louise last week was cancelled because temperatures had been too warm to make snow. The women's races got the green light, however.

Goggia and Stuhec started well down the order at 28th and 29th respectively.

Under cloudy skies and in flat light, Goggia blitzed the bottom second of the course to temporarily hold the lead with a time of one minute 45.70 seconds. Stuhec then crossed the line in 1:45.48.

"We did really good training in summer. I was training with our speed guys," Stuhec said. "Every run I could watch how I was supposed to ski and I learned a lot and gained a lot of self-confidence.

"I just had to put it in a race and I did it."

Stuhec has been in Canada since Nov. 19, training at nearby Nakiska ski resort and "shopping in Banff" before coming to Lake Louise.

Goggia tore knee ligaments in a downhill crash in Lake Louise three years ago. She didn't race again that season.

Goggia was third in a giant slalom last week in Killington, Vt., for what was then a career-best result.

"I still can't believe this. This is my second podium in a row in two different disciplines," Goggia said. "It's like 'hey, what's going on?"'

A good mix of emotions

Grenier, who turned 20 in October, is the most experienced downhiller on the host team having raced Lake Louise for the first time in 2015.

She collected the first downhill points of her career Friday, but Grenier wanted a better result after posting a pair of top-20 times in training runs.

The reigning world junior downhill champion was almost two and a half seconds back of Stuhec.

"It's really a mix of emotions today," Grenier said. "I'm happy because I got in the top 30. That was my goal in the beginning.

"At the same time I'm a bit disappointed because I know I can do a lot better."

'Holding on for dear life'

Mikaela Tommy of Wakefield, Que., did not start because of a sore back, but is expected to race Saturday.

Toronto's Candace Crawford and Stefanie Fleckenstein of Whistler, B.C., were 49th and 51st respectively in their downhill debuts.

It was their first time skiing almost 120 kilometres per hour for that long.

"I want to say it's like driving a race car even though I've never done it," said 19-year-old Fleckenstein. "You're kind of just holding on for dear life the whole way down.

"It was intense. My legs were starting to burn on the flats."

Crawford, 22, says downhills build courage to ski fast in her other disciplines of super-G, giant slalom and slalom.

"With downhill, it's all about miles, so the more miles in the skis, the more confident you get at the speeds and going that fast," Crawford said. "Just get more comfortable with the uncomfortable."

You can watch the second of this week's women's downhill races from Alberta's Lake Louise on Saturday at 2:15 p.m. ET by clicking on the link below.

While the super-G is Sunday at 12:45 p.m. ET.

More alpine skiing coverage will also be available on Saturday at 5 p.m. ET and Sunday at 4 p.m. ET on Road to the Olympic Games, CBC's weekly show spotlighting the best high-performance athletes from Canada and around the world.

With files from CBC Sports

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