Following a race postponement due to poor visibility and soft snow conditions yesterday, day three of the Winter Games NZ dawned clear and sunny with cold overnight temperatures bringing the hard and fast snow conditions needed for ski racing. On today’s schedule at Coronet Peak ski field was the first of the two FIS Australia New Zealand Cup Giant Slaloms on the Winter Games schedule.
The strong international field included athletes from 14 nations and featured a mix of experienced World Cup racers and some exciting up and coming talent. Canada’s Candace Crawford took home the win in the women’s field to back up her two first-place finishes in the Super-G, while Isaiah Nelson from the USA topped the men’s results in a hard-fought finish.
Contested over two runs with the combined times determining the final placings, the Giant Slalom is a technical event which requires strength and precision. Today’s course was once again set on The Hurdle run with the steep, rolling terrain making for a fast and challenging course.
Crawford was back on top form today, skiing the fastest first run in the women’s field to give herself a 0.14s lead over Katie Hensien of the USA with Ava Sunshine (USA) sitting in third place.
“There were definitely a few rolls in there where it really swung and turned so you had to be prepared for that,” Crawford explained after her first run. “It was a game of where you could go on the safer side versus where you could really send it. Run two will be just going for it, not leaving anything out there but skiing solid.”
Run two got underway after a course reset with the start order for the top 30 fastest racers flipped. 30th out of the gate, Crawford made good on her race plan, charging through the course to finish in first place.
“It’s not an easy hill and you need to keep working and pushing and making speed and just having that mentality of putting it all out there,” she said.
“I feel pretty good. It’s a good step for my confidence and definitely what we’ve been working on. I know I can ski well; it’s just getting my head wrapped around the racing. I can be fast in training so it’s just transferring it over. The last two days have been a good step forward.”
Katie Hensien finished in second place 0.58s behind Crawford with Riikka Honkanen (FIN) in third 0.69s back. Piera Hudson was the top-placed Kiwi woman, finishing in eighth place, 1.49s off the lead. She was awarded the Janey Blair trophy for the fastest NZ woman in Giant Slalom.
Top women’s seed Kiwi Alice Robinson recorded a DNF on run one.
21-year-old US skier Isaiah Nelson has been on impressive form throughout the ANC series technical events, picking up a win and a fourth place in Slalom a week ago. He put together a strong first run to take the lead in the men’s field 0.05s ahead of Timon Haugan of Norway with Ian Gut (Liechtenstein) 0.13s behind in third.
“It’s pretty tough up there, there’s a lot of terrain,” Nelson commented after the first run. “Run two I’m hoping it’ll be pretty bumpy. I’ll be running 30th, I like when it’s a bit of a battle. Hopefully the snow gets a little bounced around and then I just want to ski with a lot of intensity and keep fighting. I know the top won’t feel very good for anybody, but I’ll just keep pushing.”
In terms of a strategy, it proved to be a good one, with Nelson maintaining his lead and nailing down the win by a tenth of a second.
“Like I said after the first run, I was hoping for a fight, and it definitely was,” he confirmed. “The conditions were pretty bumpy on the top and a little spring-like on the bottom. It was a pretty deep groove. I skied smart at the top, I think; I didn’t push to my limit up there but coming off the pitch I was looking for speed and I felt I did a decent job carrying it across the flats. I was happy to stay in the lead, it was a close race so I’m feeling happy.”
Timon Haugan also maintained his form on run two to finish in second place, while Andreas Zampa (SVK) was able to improve on his fourth place run one placing to finish on the podium in third place, one hundredth of a second behind Haugan.
Willis Feasey, winner of the ANC Super G races, was the fastest of the Kiwi men today, finishing in 16th place 2.88s behind the lead and was awarded the Pieter Small Smith trophy for the fastest NZ man in Giant Slalom.Winter Games NZ is the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest snow sports event, featuring 16 events across alpine, freeride and park and pipe disciplines between the 27th August and 11th September. Racing continues tomorrow at Coronet Peak with a second Giant Slalom race.