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Italy's Brignone skis to gold in front of 'amazing' atmosphere at Mont-Tremblant

MONT-TREMBLANT, Que. — More than a decade into her decorated career, Federica Brignone still managed to accomplish a lot of firsts on Saturday.
Federica Brignone of Italy arrives at the end of the course during the women's World Cup giant slalom in Mont Tremblant, Que., Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

MONT-TREMBLANT, Que. — More than a decade into her decorated career, Federica Brignone still managed to accomplish a lot of firsts on Saturday.

The 33-year-old Italian — a three-time Olympic and world championship medallist — skied to gold in women's giant slalom in front of a packed crowd at Mont-Tremblant, which is hosting its first World Cup alpine event since 1983.

"I'd never won in Canada, I'd never made the podium in Canada,” said Brignone, an overall World Cup winner in 2020. “It's a new course, a new place, there's a lot of people.

“I've won a lot in my career, every additional victory is something special … (the atmosphere) was really amazing.”

Brignone posted the fastest run of the day in her first attempt and hung on to her lead in the second as she crossed the finish line at the centre of the Laurentians ski resort with a combined time of two minutes 14.95 seconds.

Petra Vlhova of Slovakia was 0.21 seconds behind to claim silver, while two-time Olympic gold medallist and overall World Cup leader Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States took bronze (2:15.24). A second women's giant slalom race is scheduled for Sunday.

Brignone wasn’t the only one struck by the atmosphere at the new race.

"When you can hear the crowd from the start, you're like, 'well, there's people down there and they're really excited,'” said Shiffrin, who jumped from fifth to third with a stellar second run.

Organizers said more than 10,000 spectators took in the event on a foggy day with light snow and temperatures that hovered around 0 C in Mont-Tremblant, which replaced Lake Louise, Alta., as the Canadian women’s stop on the World Cup circuit. 

Shiffrin, who earned a record-extending 90th World Cup win last weekend, was impressed by how supportive those fans were to athletes of all countries.

"I would say that it's a really fair crowd, cheering for everybody coming down on the green light," she said. "Of course when the Canadians are going it's a little bit of extra spice, and that's wonderful. 

“That's such a pleasure for us to race with that atmosphere."

Valérie Grenier, who is from St. Isidore, Ont. but also calls Mont-Tremblant home, was the fastest Canadian with an eighth-place finish in her homecoming. 

The 27-year-old Grenier was hoping for a better finish as the local favourite who was backed by the raucous crowd throughout the day. She came seventh and fifth in previous giant slalom races this World Cup season.

“I had trouble skiing how I wanted to, so I'm a little disappointed,” said Grenier, who noted the course was tricky in some areas. “But the crowd was amazing, I could hear them from the very start. It's crazy, it's really a dream come true."

The good news for her is she’ll have a chance to do it again on Sunday — this time with a few less jitters.

"Now that it didn't go very well today, it's only positive that I can do it again,” she said. "I know how everything's gonna go so I can just relax a bit more and take it more like a normal day."

Other Canadians had some of their best results Saturday.

Britt Richardson, a 20-year-old from Canmore, Alta., fed off the crowd’s energy and finished a career-best 15th.

"To have a personal best right here in Canada was just insane,” she said. “It was just like a dream come true to have your best day right in Canada and have my friends and family here.”

Cassidy Gray of Panorama, B.C., was 24th to place in the top 30 for the first time since March 2021 on the World Cup stage.

Earlier in the day, Justine Clément of Stoneham, Que., and Justine Lamontagne of Mont Sainte-Anne, Que., missed the cut at 51st and 54th, respectively. Sarah Bennett, also of Stoneham, hit a gate and did not finish.

Bennett said the crash aggravated a minor back injury she sustained in warm-ups before the race, but she expected to be back in action on Sunday.

Each race in Tremblant offers 144,000 Swiss francs (roughly $220,000) in prize money distributed on a descending scale across the top 30 — with 47,000 going to the winner.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2023.

Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press

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