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Rookie Rebensburg pulls off one giant upset

Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg stayed low and in control en route to her first Olympic gold. Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg stayed low and in control en route to her first Olympic gold. (Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images)
By Andrew Dampf
Associated Press / February 26, 2010

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WHISTLER, British Columbia - Victory was only a matter of time for Viktoria Rebensburg. Breaking through at the Olympics, however, exceeded even her own expectations.

Rebensburg beat the fog down the mountain and took a surprise win in the Olympic giant slalom yesterday, less than a year after she swept gold medals in super-G and giant slalom at the junior world championships.

“I just won a gold medal at an Olympic event,’’ said the 20-year-old German, who had never won a senior-level race before. “It’s the highest thing I could ever achieve. Crazy!’’

Rebensburg stood only sixth after the opening leg, and clocked a two-run combined time of 2 minutes, 27.11 seconds down Franz’s GS. The time held up when the first-run leaders were slowed by fog that got worse after Rebensburg’s run.

Tina Maze of Slovenia was second, 0.04 seconds behind, matching her silver in super-G, and first-run leader Elisabeth Goergl of Austria added another bronze, 0.14 back, duplicating her downhill finish.

Defending champion Julia Mancuso of Squaw Valley, Calif., who was 18th after the first run, had the third-fastest time of the second leg and finished eighth. American teammate Lindsey Vonn crashed during the first leg and broke her right pinkie.

The other American finisher was Megan McJames of Park City, Utah, who was 32d in her Olympic debut.

The prerace clamor within the German team centered on Maria Riesch, who won gold in super-combined, and Kathrin Hoelzl, who won the giant slalom at last season’s world championships in Val d’Isere, France.

“[Riesch] is No. 1 in our team,’’ Rebensburg said. “It’s good for us which are a little bit younger. The pressure is not so high.’’

Not anymore. Not after winning Olympic gold. Now Rebensburg will be expected to back up her victory on the World Cup circuit, and at every future major championship. She got a taste of that pressure when she was mobbed by German and international media after her victory.

It was a far cry from the junior worlds.

“It’s so small, just three journalists,’’ Rebensburg said.

At the 2008 junior worlds in Formigal, Spain, Rebensburg won gold in super-G, silver in giant slalom, and bronze in downhill. She did that one better in the 2009 juniors, at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, winning both super-G and GS.

Rebensburg’s best previous senior result was second in the last World Cup GS before the Vancouver Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. Before that, she had never finished on the podium, but she had been threatening to break out for several seasons. She finished eighth in giant slalom at the 2007 senior worlds in Are, Sweden, when she was just 17, and was ninth at last year’s worlds in Val d’Isere when Hoelzl won.

Still, German coaches had sometimes been critical of Rebensburg, saying she doesn’t risk enough.

Not so yesterday. The proof is in the result. “If you don’t take a risk,’’ she said, “you’re not going to win anything.’’

This time it was Hoelzl, who finished sixth, and Riesch, who placed 10th, who were due for criticism.

Riesch was seventh after the opening leg, but was only 20th fastest in her second run. Hoelzl was a bit more consistent - 10th in the first leg and 12th in the second - but didn’t cut nearly enough corners to make it onto the podium.

“She should experience this moment right now, because it all goes by like a film and tonight she will shake her head and wonder what happened,’’ Riesch said.