Holdener edges Vlhova to defend world combined title

Are, Sweden (Agencies): Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener sent her cowbell-ringing fans crazy as she defended her alpine combined title in thrilling style at the world championships on Friday.

Holdener clocked the fifth fastest time in the opening downhill, 0.42sec off Austrian speedster Ramona Siebenhofer’s leading time of 1min 12.71sec. Come the slalom, Holdener’s main rival, Slovak slalom specialist Petra Vlhova, skied three slots ahead and took the lead in perfect, floodlit conditions.

But the Swiss kept her nerve, safely negotiating a tough midsection to come through the line three-hundredths of a second ahead of Vlhova. As she punched the air in delight after seeing the result flash up on the finish area’s big screen, Holdener’s sizable travelling fan club leapt into action.

Adorned with grey bobble hats reading ‘Wendy’ and wearing imitation ski race bibs adorned with her face, the cowbells were shaken in relief, their ringing suddenly more frenetic when Holdener turned to acknowledge them.

“Finally I could put two good runs together and bring home the victory!” beamed the 25-year-old. “I loved the downhill here in Are, I felt really confident… and come the slalom, well I knew I had to bring it and I’m happy to have edged Petra.”

With the successful defence of her title, Holdener became the fifth skier to win the women’s combined at successive world champs after Christel Cranz (1934-35, 1937-39), Marielle Goitschel (1962-66), Erika Hess (1982-87) and Janica Kostelic (2003-5). Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel claimed bronze, 0.45sec off Holdener’s winning combined time of 2:02.58.

– Shiffrin missing –

Siebenhofer did well to finish fourth, just four-hundredths off a medal, while long-time leader Roni Remme of Canada surprisingly laid down the fastest slalom run after finishing a distant 28th in the downhill, enough to bag herself an impressive fifth.

The 19-year-old Remme has never made a podium in the World Cup, her best performance an eighth-place in the Semmering slalom in December, but only she and Vlhova dipped under 49 seconds for the slalom down the Gastrappet course. Reigning Olympic combined champion Michelle Gisin did not take part in the race, a knee injury having ruled the Swiss skier out of these worlds.

Also missing was Mikaela Shiffrin, who won the women’s super-G on Tuesday, but opted out of competing in the combined in order to save her energy for her preferred technical events of the slalom and giant slalom.

It was a decision Shiffrin’s soon-to-retire US teammate Lindsey Vonn, who was first out of the start gate in the combined downhill with no intention of racing the slalom, could not fathom out.

“She could have won everything,” Vonn said of Shiffrin, the three-time defending world slalom champion.

“For me, I’m a racer and I want to race in every single race that I possibly can.

“She could have gotten a medal in every single discipline. But those are 100 percent her goals so I respect her decision.

“She has the potential, 100 percent the capability of getting a medal in all five disciplines.

“I don’t personally understand it. But she has her goals, so hopefully I’m sure she’ll get two golds in giant slalom and slalom.”

Vonn, victim of a crash in Tuesday’s super-G that left her with a black eye and bruised ribs, now targets Sunday’s downhill, the final race of her illustrious career — and one Shiffrin has also opted out of.