The 2018-19 World Para Alpine Skiing World Cup season opened with a night of surprises in Zagreb, Croatia, as several young talents upset the favourites. Lashing winds and bright lights set a dramatic atmosphere for the five night-time slalom races.
Iceland’s Hilmar Orvarsson made the most of the tricky weather conditions as he beat out veteran competitors to claim his first World Cup victory.
“I was aiming for the top five. When I came down here in the second run, I wasn’t expecting to see first place,” Orvarsson said. “Hopefully the slope will be as icy tomorrow as it was today. In Iceland we get a lot of wind so I hope it will be just as windy as today.”
The leader after Run 1, Thomas Walsh, finished 1.20 seconds behind Orvarsson despite a fierce push - and a lot of screaming - in the last descent.
“Sometimes I get in a little trouble with that. Don’t want to yell out any curse words, but with this burning in the legs, I think sometimes it comes out subconsciously,” Walsh said. “I don’t even know if it helps. I could just sound like a crazy person skiing, but it got me down to the bottom today so I think that helped a little bit.”
A veteran skier himself, Walsh was happy to see his 18-year-old rival from Iceland take the win.
“It’s always awesome to have someone new up there and pushing the group as a whole,” he said. “I’ve been on this circuit a few years, so seeing a few kids come up like that, it’s great. I think it’s amazing to see our sport grow.”
Switzerland’s Thomas Pfyl rounded off the podium in third.
Women vision impaired
The women’s vision impaired race served up two surprises in Zagreb. Two-time overall World Cup winner Henrieta Farkasova was disqualified shortly before the start of the first run, which left the field open to the other competitors. However, it was not the seasoned veterans who stepped up, but rather a 15-year-old making her World Cup debut.
Veronika Aigner of Austria, and her guide Elisabeth Aigner won the race, beating out the Paralympic champion Menna Fitzpatrick and last season’s runner up in the slalom World Cup, Melissa Perrine, to get to the top of the podium.
“I’m very pleased to have my first World Cup race behind me and with such a great result. I’m really stoked to have such a good performance,” Aigner said. “The course was tricky and quite long. In the end, I really felt my legs starting to burn.”
While it was a brand new competition for Aigner, the World Cup also felt novel to other skiers for different reasons, namely third place finisher Perrine of Australia who is skiing with a new guide, Bobbi Kelly, this season.
“For us, we really wanted to put a solid showing together, some really good skiing and see where that kind of landed us,” Perrine said. “Tonight that’s right up on the podium. It’s encouraging but we still have a couple of days to the world champs so we’re going to keep working.”
Men vision impaired
Paralympic champion and leader after Run 1, Giacomo Bertagnolli, looked set to win the first World Cup race of the season, but his quest for gold was stopped dead in its tracks when guide Fabrizio Casal lost his ski within sight of the finish line.
“We were skiing very well. My feeling was very good, and the same for my guide, but at the beginning of the last descent my guide lost the ski, so the race was finished for both of us,” Bertagnolli said of the incident. “I don’t care. Tomorrow we have another race and the important thing is not to lose the ski during world championships.”
This is not the first time that Bertagnolli has had this happen, which led a handful of coaches and athletes from other countries to offer words of advice to the young Italian at the finish line.
“This year I lost my ski in St Moritz, but fortunately I was able to finish the race, and my guide lost the ski at the Paralympic Games so it’s normal,” Bertagnolli said.
Bertagnolli’s unexpected halt in the final metres gave Slovakia’s Miroslav Haraus the victory, with Austria’s Gernot Morgenfurt and Croatia’s Damir Mizdrak coming in second and third, respectively.
“This race is a very good start. It is good preparation, so I am very happy to win,” Haraus said.
Leader after Run 1, Frederique Turgeon of Canada succeeded in maintaining the lead in the night event and took the victory in women’s standing slalom.
“You get tired throughout the day, but I tend to be very awake at night so I guess that’s good for me,” Turgeon said. “I love this race for that actually. I like the nightlife, having the lights out and everything. I think it’s cool.”
Second and third place in the event went to Slovakia’s Petra Smarzova and Germany’s Anna-Maria Rieder.
Only one competitor finished the second run of the men’s sitting slalom race. Although not in his best form due to a recent illness, Jesper Pedersen of Norway was still guaranteed a victory as the other competitors either did not start of did not finish the race.
“I’ve been a bit sick the last couple of months. It’s been nice to get back,” Pedersen said. “I didn’t ski my best today, but tomorrow it’s going to be good, and of course a World Cup victory is a World Cup victory.”