Road To The Olympic Games

Alpine Skiing

Norwegian youngster Lucas Braathen takes Soelden giant slalom for 1st victory

Lucas Braathen upset the pre-race favourites to clinch his first career win at the season-opening men's World Cup giant slalom Sunday in Soelden, Austria.

Competing in only his 23rd World Cup event, 20-year-old upsets pre-race favourites

Norway's Lucas Braathen, 23, celebrates after winning the men's giant slalom in Soelden, Austria on Sunday for his first World Cup win. (Johann Groder/APA/AFP via Getty Images)

Sitting in the leader box, Lucas Braathen buried his head in his hands as he watched each racer after him crossing the finish line at the season-opening men's World Cup giant slalom Sunday in Soelden, Austria.

But the Norwegian's time held up, even after first-run leader Gino Caviezel completed his second.

Braathen, who had never finished in a World Cup podium position, improved from fifth place after the opening leg to upset the pre-race favourites and clinch his first career win.

"It's a pretty good day," the 20-year-old told Austrian TV with a bright smile.

Braathen posted the second fastest time in the decisive leg to finish ahead of Swiss duo Marco Odermatt and Caviezel.

Odermatt, the fastest racer in the second run, was five hundredths behind, and Caviezel, who led after the opening run, trailed by 0.46 seconds.

"A victory's too much to ask for but I know that my mental side is strong, I know my technical skiing has improved a lot, my physics as well," Braathen said.

"I knew that I was capable of a podium. First victory, first race of the season, it's unbelievable," he said.

I am not here for fifth places, I am here for podiums— First-time World Cup winner Lucas Braathen after Sunday's giant slalom victory

Competing in only his 23th event in the World Cup, Braathen had a fourth place as his previous best result at the slalom in Kitzbuehel in January.

Braathen knew that the challenging Rettenbach glacier is a hill that suits him. Last year he wore bib No. 40 and finished sixth.

Posting the fifth time in the opening run convinced him even more that something was possible on Sunday.

Defending overall champ joins in celebration

"I went for it. I am not here for fifth places, I am here for podiums," he said of his attacking second run.

His roommate in the Norwegian team, overall champion Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, was among the first to congratulate him, giving him a firm hug.

Kilde didn't leave the venue, staying around to see how his teammate would do, despite failing to finish his first run. Kilde came wide on a left turn and lost his right ski when he caught a bump.

Last year's winner Alexis Pinturault missed the podium by 0.03 seconds in fourth, while GS world champion Henrik Kristoffersen finished in joint fifth place with Loic Meillard, the third Swiss skier in the top five.

Erik Read of Canmore, Alta., finished 19th.

Defending overall World Cup champion Aleksander Aamodt Kilde failed to finish his first run. Braathen's Norwegian teammate came wide on a left turn and lost his right ski when he caught a bump.

Ted Ligety, who won the race a record four times, was 10th after the opening run but the American's left ski came off early in his second.

With Braathen and Odermatt, who turned 23 this month, a younger generation occupied the top spots in the season's first race.

Wide-open discipline

"You can only dream of such a start to the season," Odermatt said.

The GS has become a wide-open discipline since the retirement of Marcel Hirscher. The dominant Austrian won the GS season title six times in seven years before ending his career in 2019.

Last season, Kristoffersen scooped the title, but Pinturault, Croatia's Filip Zubcic and Slovenia's Zan Kranjec all finished within 30 points of the Norwegian's tally after seven races.

The Russian team was excluded from Sunday's race after coronavirus tests of two of its coaches came back with unclear results.

The team, including racers Pavel Trikhichev, Alexander Andrienko and Ivan Kuznetsov, was isolated awaiting results of retests.

No spectators were allowed at the race as one of the precautionary health and safety measures amid the pandemic.

The next World Cup races are parallel events for men and women in another Austrian resort, Lech/Zuers, on Nov. 13-14.

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