By ANDREW DAMPF and ERIC WILLEMSEN
MERIBEL, France (AP) — Leaning on her ski poles and shaking her head, Federica Brignone thought she had squandered her chance for a gold medal in the women’s combined.
The Italian had just finished her slalom run on the opening day of the world championships, but a costly mistake slowed her down just before the flat finishing section. She didn’t believe the lead she had built earlier Monday in the super-G portion of the race would hold up.
Especially with someone like Mikaela Shiffrin still to come down.
Minutes later, though, Brignone screamed and put the hands on her head in disbelief. The defending champion from the United States straddled the third-to-last gate when it appeared she was about to beat Brignone’s time.
“I am so happy and grateful for today,” said Brignone, who became the first world champion from Italy in the women’s combined. “It was an amazing day. I did two really good runs, also super-G and then slalom. What’s missing in my career was a gold medal and I’m so, so excited and so happy about today.”
Wendy Holdener had the fastest slalom time. The two-time world champion from Switzerland climbed from 13th after the opening run to win silver, 1.62 seconds behind Brignone. Bronze went to Ricarda Haaser of Austria, who was 2.26 behind.
The combined event adds the results of a super-G run and a slalom run.
“Today, I was just focused on my skiing. It was sure my perfect day,” said Brignone, who led Shiffrin by 0.96 after the super-G portion. “She told me: ‘Oh, you put me under a lot of pressure. You did a great super-G.”
The Italian also led the combined event at her home world championships two years ago, but skied out early in the slalom run.
“In slalom, anything can happen. I was first in Cortina and then I did three gates,” Brignone said. “I am also a nice slalom skier, for sure not the best, but I can do some pretty good runs.”
Brignone’s gold came 12 years after winning bronze in giant slalom, her only previous medal at worlds, though she has won three Olympic medals since, including bronze in the combined event at last year’s Beijing Games.
Also, her triumph came 40 years after her mother, Maria Rosa Quario, won the last of her four slalom World Cup races. Skiing is a family affair for Brignone — she learned the sport from her father and she is currently coached by her brother, Davide.
“My career was already great and I didn’t need anything more,” Brignone said. “But I had a great time singing with the team afterward. I had so many emotions.”
Brignone’s win could mark the start of a triumphant week for the Italian team with the super-G to follow Wednesday. Olympic champion Sofia Gioggia is the favorite in Saturday’s downhill.
Shiffrin was competing in her first major event since failing to win a medal in six starts at last year’s Beijing Games. It’s the first time since the Olympics that Shiffrin failed to finish a run of a technical race.
“The only way I have a chance is to ski full, full gas. So I was doing that, take the risk that you don’t finish,” Shiffrin said. “So, that’s disappointing, but it’s always quite positive how I was skiing.”
Shiffrin was the defending champion in the combined event. She has won six world titles and 11 medals overall from 13 previous starts at world championships.
American teammate Breezy Johnson came off the race line and crashed through a gate halfway through her super-G run but said said was unhurt.
Holdener, who won the combined world title in 2017 and 2019 and added Olympic silver last year, used a strong slalom run to jump onto the podium.
“I didn’t know what happened in the slalom, so when I saw the second place, I was really happy and enjoyed it a lot,” the Swiss skier said. “The last couple of weeks were hard to have the right balance. But when I arrived here, I enjoyed myself, had the right balance again.”
Petra Vlhova, the silver medalist from 2019 and 2021, sat out the race to focus on her core events of giant slalom and slalom. The 2021 overall World Cup champion from Slovakia has struggled with health issues in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, the men start their championships with the combined.
Willemsen contributed from Vienna.
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