Canadian Larisa Yurkiw earned a spot at the Winter Olympics after finishing sixth in a women’s downhill skiing World Cup event on Saturday, a career-best performance.
Yurkiw, from Owen Sound, Ont., needed two top-12 results to qualify for nomination to Canada’s Olympic team and followed up a seventh-place finish in the season-opening downhill in Lake Louise, Alta., with a strong run in Saturday’s race in Austria.
“Larisa skied amazing today. She was super strong. It was solid skiing, top to bottom,” said Hugues Ansermoz, head coach of Canada’s women’s team. “It’s great that she has qualified for Sochi. She was already close to qualifying but she made the Olympic team through the front door without leaving anything to chance. She deserves it and she showed that today.”
Elisabeth Goergl beat Anna Fenninger for an Austrian 1-2 finish, ending a two-year drought for the ski-mad nation in the sport’s fastest discipline.
Goergl, the 2011 world champion, started 28th after the other top contenders had already gone down but had the fastest time at each interval.
Goergl finished the demanding three-kilometre Kaelberloch course in 1:47.45 to deny Fenninger her first career downhill win by 0.56 seconds.
“I know I had a super run. That gives me satisfaction,” said Goergl, who also was the last Austrian woman to win a downhill — in Bad Kleinkirchheim, Austria, in January 2012.
“I am glad that I had a smooth run,” Goergl said. “Winning isn’t the most important to me. What really counts is skiing well. I wasn’t able to show that last year.”
It was the first 1-2 finish in a World Cup downhill for Austrian women since 2007.
Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, who has won two downhills this season, came 0.63 behind in third and lost her lead in the overall standings to Fenninger by six points, 677-671. Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein is third with 659 points.
Weirather came 0.91 behind in fourth.
Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., came 29th to claim her first top-30 World Cup finish in downhill to add to the seven top-10s and three top-five results she’s already racked up this season in slalom, giant slalom and super-G.
“I’m more than happy with top 30. It’s a huge stepping stone for me because being in the points shows you are part of the group,” said Gagnon, who was the first Canadian alpine skier to meet the criteria for nomination to Canada’s Olympic team. “I don’t train downhill and we only had one training run this week. I just got brand new boots and I raced on them and totally different skis, so I’m super happy with that.”
Starting 25th, Yurkiw — who is racing as an independent under coach Kurt Mayr — produced a strong run to cross the line in a time of 1:48.58. Yurkiw suffered a catastrophic leg injury in 2009 but returned to competition two years later.
Yurkiw has previously had success in Altenmarkt, winning the downhill portion of a combined race — and beating American superstar Lindsey Vonn in the process — in January 2009. She was also seventh in the FIS Junior World Ski Championships in Altenmarkt/Flachau in 2007.
“This is her hill — she’s done well here before,” Gagnon said. “It great seeing her continue her streak of top results. She’s a cool girl and I think I can learn a lot from her.”
Gagnon, competing in downhill as part of her training for the combined discipline, achieved her aim of a top 30 finish when she crossed the line in 1:50.17.
“That was the goal today, just to score some points and get (Canada) another spot in downhill,” Ansermoz said. “Without skiing her best she was top 30 so anything is possible for her in the combined.”
Both Gagnon, who was fourth in the world in super-combined last season, and Erin Mielzynski, of Collingwood, Ont., are set to compete in Sunday’s super combined race.
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