Sofia Goggia was in a class by herself in the season-opening women’s World Cup downhill Friday.
The Italian’s winning time in Lake Louise, Alta., was almost a second and a half faster than runner-up Breezy Johnson of the United States.
In a sport where competitors are often separated by hundredths of a second, the reigning Olympic downhill champion’s margin of victory was an eon.
Goggia, 29, also extended her streak of downhill victories to five straight dating back to last season when she claimed the World Cup season title.
“This is the biggest advantage I have ever won with, so I’m really happy about that,” Goggia said.
“I actually cannot explain the victory of today. I think I skied like normal. The only thing I tried to do was go the straightest I could. This morning, I had a lot of thoughts in my mind, but in the start gate, I said ‘OK, let’s go. You go down and you try to do your best.’
“I had in my mind the line and tried to ski that way.”
She traversed the three-kilometre course in a time of one minute, 46.95 seconds. Johnson, 24, finished a career-best second in 1:48.42.
“I definitely expected to be a little closer to Sofia, but she really just put the hammer down and skied incredibly,” the American said.
“She’s pushing the sport forward. She’s showing really what women’s ski racing can be. I think the men should maybe start watching her a little bit too.”
A second women’s downhill is scheduled for Saturday followed by Sunday’s super-G at the Canadian ski resort in Banff National Park.
READ MORE: Sunshine Village ski resort in Banff closed Wednesday
Last year’s men’s and women’s World Cups there were cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Austria’s Mirjam Puchnor placed third Friday at 1:48.49.
Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., was the top Canadian in 16th place for her career-best downhill result in Lake Louise.
“The top section I felt pretty good, but then I made a huge mistake in the Fish Net into Fall Away,” Gagnon said. “I lost a lot of time there.”
Reigning world downhill champion Corinne Suter of Switzerland placed fifth. Defending overall World Cup champion Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. was 26th.
A top-30 result is coveted because that’s where the prize money is, but it also contributes to a top-30 start bib in future races.
Gagnon, who was the eighth woman to push out of the start hut, gets another chance to improve her downhill ranking Saturday.
“I can be a little bit more mad, and have that next extra gear, that next extra 10 per cent intensity,” the Canadian said.
Heavy, wet snow and poor visibility whittled last weekend’s men’s World Cup in Lake Louise from three races down to a single downhill.
READ MORE: Section of Highway 93 to be closed for days between Jasper and Banff over winter storm concerns
The women got their requisite one training run in on Tuesday, but sessions Wednesday and Thursday were called off because of rain and the need to prep the course for Friday’s downhill.
The weather co-operated for race day with sunny skies and a temperature of minus -10 C at the start.
Goggia claimed her first career World Cup downhill medal in Lake Louise in 2016 when she finished second. Friday’s victory was her first at the resort west of Calgary.
Goggia was the fastest in Tuesday’s training with Gagnon in seventh, just over a second behind.
“She definitely is one of those people who puts everything on the line on race day and I respect her very much for that, and I think I can learn from that,” Gagnon said. “If I have it in the preparation, I know there’s an extra gear I need to kick in for race day.
“Definitely respect to her for today. Huge win.”
Gagnon’s fiance, Travis Ganong of the U.S. ski team, placed third in Friday’s men’s super-G in Beaver Creek, Colo.
“It’s funny because we’ve never done well on the same day,” Gagnon said. “I was like ‘I’m going to change that.’
“It’s OK. We have two more races (this weekend) both of us. Maybe we’ll end that curse.”
Toronto’s Jack Crawford was the top Canadian in 12th at Beaver Creek. Broderick Thompson of Whistler, B.C., was 20th a day after earning bronze in another men’s super-G there.
Thompson has started his second season of a comeback following a catastrophic knee injury that kept him out of racing for two years.
“We were just super-stoked for him,” Gagnon said. “It’s so cool to see him do so well. No one expected that and I love that, the underdog story.”
Stefanie Fleckenstein of Whistler was 38th on Friday. Roni Remme of Collingwood, Ont., placed 43rd and Toronto’s Candace Crawford finished 51st.
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