New Zealand skier Alice Robinson has enhanced her growing reputation as a threat to the world's best speed skiers with another sensational result in her second discipline, Super G.
The 20-year-old has finished seventh in the fifth World Cup race of the season in Zauchensee in Austria overnight. It follows a career-best fourth in St Moritz in December before her season hit a roadblock when she contracted Covid-19.
Robinson only started from bib number 31 and waited about an hour before she started her run. But with the confidence flowing after her impressive debut in Europa Cup downhill races in France last week, the Queenstown skier flew down the challenging course.
She was 0.04 and 0.18 up on leader Federica Brignone of Italy through the first two splits and crossed the line just 0.53 seconds behind Brignone who claimed her second win of the season.
"Yeah, it was a really good day. I had like some really fast sections, and then a couple of spots where I knew I lost a little bit of time. But you know, starting 31 and ending up in seventh is really great. I'm feeling really confident on my speed skis at the moment and felt like I was really able to attack the whole way down," Robinson said.
Swiss world champion Lara-Gut Behrami could only finish 10th, emphasising just how quickly Robinson has caught up to her rivals in a discipline she has only competed in 10 times at World Cup level in her career.
Robinson's co-coach Chris Knight felt the Kiwi was so good, she could have won the race.
"She's showing how good she can be with a little bit of experience racing more speed, her learning curve is so sharp and high. I honestly have expected that she could win today. There were a couple of bumps in spots and that's something she doesn't quite have the experience of carrying through the bumps but second time on that hill, fantastic effort," Knight said.
Significantly she moves up to 13th in the overall World Cup Super G standings, guaranteeing a higher starting position for her next race in Cortina d'Ampezzo in Italy this coming weekend.
Robinson has clearly shown she will be a contender in two disciplines at the upcoming Beijing Olympics, and ironically, she has so far this season performed better in Super G than the more technical Giant Slalom where she already has three World Cup victories under her belt so early in her career.
But that is in part due to the disruption caused by her positive Covid diagnosis which came after her phenomenal fourth place in the St Moritz World Cup Super G last month. It forced her out of the following week's Super G in France and back-to-back GS races in France prior to Christmas.
"It's been a pretty tough kind of month when you have a bit of success, and then get side-lined for a bit and it took me a bit of time to kind of get my legs back after sitting at home for 10 days. It took a while to build back into it especially in the last two Giant Slaloms which I didn't finish, just missing a bit of power, I think. So, it's just great to kind of get some success again, and just start building back the momentum that I had before I got COVID, and I should be in a good place heading to China," Robinson said.
The young Kiwi finally got a taste of Downhill racing last week in France, producing two stunning second place finishes in Europa Cup races (the level below World Cup) which gave her the FIS points needed to be able to contest World Cup downhill training runs.
The first of which will come later this week in Cortina d'Ampezzo in Italy before Sunday night's Super G. Up until now Robinson has not been able to ski the downhill training runs which are held on the same hill as Super G races, putting her at a major disadvantage to her rivals, so it's a big opportunity and there is a chance if the training runs go well, she could make her World Cup downhill debut the day before the Super G race.
"Yeah, it's a possibility. We'll have to see how it goes. Because I did well in the Europa Cup, but that's still the Europa Cup and I'm not sure how I stack up against the top dogs in downhill just yet. So, we'll see how the training runs go and then decide, but it would be cool if I could race that as well."
After the week in Cortina Robinson plans top race in the final Giant Slalom before the Olympics in Kronplatz in Italy before heading to Beijing with her opening race the GS on the 7th of February. She will skip the downhill and Super G in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany at the end of the month in order to have enough time to prepare for her pinnacle event at the Olympics.
Meanwhile, New Zealand freeskier Ben Barclay has finished in second place at the FIS Freeski Slopestyle World Cup in France. It's a career-best performance for the 19-year-old and his first World Cup podium.
"Right now, it doesn't seem too real, the goal was far exceeded today. Our plan was to have a safe run to help secure Olympic selection, but everything just fell into line, and I couldn't be happier," Barclay said.
Barclay went head-to-head with some of the top freeski slopestyle athletes in the world and held his own, laying down a great first run which had him sitting in fourth position. He dropped into run two knowing he would need to step up his run to have a shot at the podium.
"I didn't have too much stress going into the second run as I was sitting in a good position, I just wanted to try and fix the mistakes I made in the first run. I was feeling calm, and that was one of the main reasons it went so well."
Barclay's impressive second run was rewarded with an 82.71 from the judges, leapfrogging him into second place. With 11 skiers still to drop it was a nerve-wracking wait for him.
"For the first six skiers I was pretty calm as I didn't think it [second position] would hold, given the remaining 11 athletes were some of the best in the world. When it got to the last five skiers, I was feeling anxious and nervous. Once it got to the last two skiers, I realised I had a confirmed podium finish, and all the weight was lifted off my shoulders. When I found out I had snagged second place it was the best feeling anyone could ever ask for," Barclay said.
This was the final FIS Freeski Slopestyle World Cup event before the Winter Olympics and Barclay is now in prime position to be selected later this week to make the team for Beijing.