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SCHLADMING, AUT (Feb. 14, 2013) — A determined performance from Canada’s Marie-Michèle Gagnon earned the 23-year-old an eighth-place finish in Thursday’s ladies’ giant slalom at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Schladming, Austria.
Gagnon, of Lac-Etchemin, Que., battled her way down a steep and difficult course to record her best result at a world championships and her second-best finish of the season in giant slalom.
Gagnon’s teammate Marie-Pier Préfontaine, of Saint-Sauveur, Que., had a tough second run and finished 28th, while 17-year-old Mikaela Tommy, of Wakefield, Que., made her debut at world champs but didn’t finish her first run.
“It was a fight but I laid it out there, I attacked,” said Gagnon, who is competing at her third world championships. “For sure, some mistakes happened but I gave it all I had today and eighth place – I’m really happy. It was a great experience – the crowd was crazy.”
The first four racers out of the gate finished the first run with the four fastest times as poor visibility and a difficult course made it tough for competitors with later start numbers. Gagnon, who started 18th, sat seventh after a strong first run in which she fought valiantly all the way down.
“I knew coming here it was going to be a battle but I fought and it paid off,” Gagnon said of her first run. “I didn’t feel very good coming down but when I saw 7th I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll take that.’ ”
Gagnon hasn’t had the results she was hoping for in giant slalom this season after getting off to a good start at the season-opener in Soelden, Austria, where she finished sixth.
“The course was quite tricky,” Gagnon said of Schladming. “There were probably two parts where I was like flying in the air and I was like, ‘Stay on the ground.’ Here you’ve just got to attack no matter what. Everyone’s going to make mistakes because it’s just that kind of course. You’ve got to keep going; keep fighting.
“I had some good sections today. I’m happy with everything. Eighth place is really good. For sure at world champs only medals count but for me it’s a big step.”
Gagnon clocked a two-run combined time of two minutes, 10.69 seconds. Jim Pollock, head technical coach of the ladies’ team, praised Gagnon’s “outstanding” performance.
“She’s had a successful week of training. She was skiing probably the best I’ve ever seen her in training the other day,” Pollock said. “She was ready for the race and executed extremely well first run – especially in the second half on the steep icy pitch. It definitely wasn’t getting any faster that course – and she nailed it.
“Second run she came down into second place. She was fighting for the green light and almost had it – a couple of mistakes in the middle section cost her but it was a good, solid run. We can look forward now to Saturday (the ladies’ slalom).”
Préfontaine was a solid 22nd after her first run and was determined to attack her second run.
“Second run I thought I was going to go for it but I guess I was slow,” said Préfontaine, who was 28th in the super-G last week and had a two-run combined time of 2:13.77 Thursday. “I’m pretty disappointed with my world champs. All there is to say is that I’m going to keep working hard and come back in the next World Cup and rip it.”
France’s Tessa Worley was the first racer out of the gate and won the first run by more than half a second. She then crushed the second run as well – which she also won – to take the victory in 2:08.06. Slovenia’s Tina Maze was second in 2:09.18, while Austria’s Anna Fenninger was third (2:09.24).
Tommy was disappointed she didn’t finish her first run but immediately set her sights on winning medals for Canada at the FIS World Junior Ski Championships, which get underway next week in the Quebec City region.
“It’s been pretty fun but I wish my run was more fun,” said Tommy, who is set to compete in giant slalom, slalom and super-G at the world juniors. “I didn’t finish and I made a big mistake up top. Right out of the start I didn’t really have a chance because I made such a big mistake. On the third or fourth gate I caught an edge. I almost missed the next gate after that so I had to stop and get back into it. I’m just going to learn from this and move on.
“I know it’s definitely good fuel for the fire because as soon as I didn’t finish immediately what popped into my head was world juniors – I know I want to do well there,” added Tommy, who made her World Cup debut in Maribor, Slovenia, in January. “Same thing after Maribor. When I didn’t finish I wanted to do it again but came back home and did well in Vail (at the Nor-Am races). I’m definitely hungry to do another GS race now.”
Pollock said Thursday was a great learning experience for Tommy.
“I think it’s going to pay dividends already in Quebec at the world juniors,” Pollock said. “I think she’ll look at that as a smaller event now and see her place in it a little better. She understands what it’s like at the top level. She knows she’s got a couple of years ahead of her of really hard work – physically and technically – and she has the talent to do that.”
Next up at the world championships is the men’s giant slalom, which is scheduled for Friday. The ladies’ slalom is due to take place on Saturday, before the world championships wrap up with the men’s slalom on Sunday. For a complete TV schedule visit http://www.alpinecanada.org/tv.
FEB. 14, 2013 – SCHLADMING, AUT – FIS ALPINE WORLD SKI CHAMPIONSHIPS – LADIES’ GIANT SLALOM
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