Italian Federica Brignone wins giant slalom at Killington

"It was unexpected, for sure."

Federica Brignone of Italy reacts after winning the Giant Slalom at the Audi FIS Ski World Cup on November 24, 2018 in Killington, Vermont.
Federica Brignone of Italy reacts after winning the Giant Slalom at the Audi FIS Ski World Cup on November 24, 2018 in Killington, Vermont. –Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

KILLINGTON, Vt. — As Federica Brignone hurdled to the finish line of Saturday’s World Cup giant slalom at Killington, she was resigned to the fact it wasn’t going to be her day. The 28-year-old Italian believed that a mistake during her second run would cost her a chance at victory.

“After the mistake, I said, ‘No, this [is] going to be really bad,’ ’’ Brignone admitted.

Yet such was her dominance over the rest of the course that her doubts proved misplaced. When the time flashed on the finish line scoreboard, she was in first place. After Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel — the final racer of the day — crossed the line with a slower time, Brignone’s surprising victory was sealed.

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“It was unexpected, for sure,’’ Brignone said. Mowinckel finished second (losing by a margin of .49 seconds), while Austria’s Stephanie Brunner was third (.78 seconds behind).

American Mikaela Shiffrin, who drew the loudest applause from the 18,500 fans, finished fourth. She had a specific term for the snow quality on Killington’s “Superstar’’ trail.

“We call it ‘hero snow,’ ’’ said Shiffrin. “It’s too easy almost. And it’s really easy to be very comfortable and just have some fun with it and then you get to the bottom and you think, ‘Wow, that was so slow.’ ’’

The cold weather and recent snowfall left conditions on the softer side.

“For us it was really, really easy today,’’ said Brignone, who gave New England positive reviews. “Here it was just amazing to ski. It was really fun. You could attack from beginning to end.’’

Shiffrin was first out of the gate in the competition, making the first of the morning runs. Yet it was Mowinckel who topped the leaderboard halfway through, as Shiffrin — then sixth — cited her inability to attack the way she wanted.

“The first run I had some really good skiing, but some of the turns I was just not aggressive enough,’’ Shiffrin said. An uptick in aggression in her second run was rewarded with a move from sixth to fourth, but the 23-year-old — who won gold in giant slalom at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February — finished just short of the podium.

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“I was happy with some of my skiing,’’ said Shiffrin, “but I wasn’t happy with the intensity.’’

A solid second run moved Mikaela Shiffrin up to a fourth-place finish at Killington. —Tom Pennington/Getty Images

In its third year, the Killington Cup is far from old hat for both the fans and racers. Thousands again gathered at the bottom to roar their approval of every racer.

“There are so many fans, and they cheer for everyone, not just the Americans,’’ said Frida Hansdotter of Sweden.

“It was amazing, you can hear it when you’re going down,’’ Brignone described. “I was going up the chair for my second run and I looked back and just said, ‘Wow.’ ’’

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“Traveling the way we do, this is not normal for us with all of this crowd,’’ Mowinckel said.

An enthusiastic crowd of 18,500 watched Andrea Ellenberger of Switzerland ski her first run. —Tom Pennington/Getty Images

For one racer, it was a special day regardless of the result. Abi Jewett of Ripton, Vt., made her World Cup debut in front of a home crowd.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to race my first World Cup anywhere else,’’ said Jewett, whose 59.7-second run put her outside the top 30 (and thus ineligible for a second run). The 18-year-old was one of a handful of local high school racers selected to be a course “forerunner’’ in 2017. Forerunners test the course immediately before the race begins.

A year later, she was racing in it for real. The experience from 2017 gave her a good education on the challenges of a World Cup race.

“That was good for me because I had skied on the course before and I knew what it was going to kind of feel like,’’ Jewett explained. She will continue racing with the US team for the rest of the season before heading off to join the Dartmouth ski team in the spring. For Jewett, going from forerunner to World Cup racer in a single year was a shock, no matter how much she knew the course.

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“I didn’t see myself racing it this year,’’ Jewett said. “Definitely a couple of years out, but it’s all happened really fast, just making it to this point.’’

The Killington Cup resumes on Sunday with women’s slalom. Shiffrin has won each of the two World Cup slalom events hosted at Killington. The first run is scheduled for 10 a.m., with second happening at 1 p.m. (and will be carried live on NBC).

Winner Federica Brignone (center) is flanked by runners-up Ragnhild Mowinckel (left) and Stephanie Brunner. —Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images