Marie-Michèle Gagnon entered this skiing season wanting more than a top-15 finish from speed events and was determined to join the sport's elite. She also remembers having more to give after placing 18th in Friday's women's downhill in Val d'Isere, France.
On Saturday, the Canadian finished a career-best 10th in one minute 45.58 seconds, 88-100ths of a second behind winner Sofia Goggia of Italy.
"Today was a great performance for me. I'm very happy that I was able to bring the same attitude that I've had all summer to my racing," Gagnon told Alpine Canada after the race. "Today was a step that I needed to take."
"I've been consistently fast and solid on my skies and comparing myself to the girls who are winning right now and being right in there."
WATCH | Marie-Michèle Gagnon has career day in Val d'Isere:
Gagnon, 31, felt she turned a corner with a career-best 13th-place finish in Bansko, Bulgaria, at a World Cup downhill on Jan. 24, 2020. Though the "difficult, steep and technical" hill suited Gagnon and her giant slalom background better than others, she wasn't completely satisfied.
"My goal is to be a lot better than 20th, 30th or 13th," she told CBC Sports in October. "You sometimes see skiers, especially on the men's side, start winning the [downhill and giant slalom] at 30 years old. It's a patience game with the speed events because you need mileage on the hill and experience."
Grenier, Crawford to race Sunday's super-G
Switzerland's Corinne Suter was second on Saturday in 1:44.94, followed by American Breezy Johnson in 1:44.97.
Gagnon, the lone Canadian in Saturday's race, was itching to get back on the slopes after heavy snowfall and strong winds forced the cancellation of a super-G event — the first speed race of the World Cup season — earlier this month in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Teammate Valérie Grenier of Mont-Tremblant, Que., and Toronto's Candace Crawford will join Gagnon in Sunday's super-G. It'll be Grenier's first super-G since missing all last season after breaking her right tibia (shinbone), fibula (calf bone) and ankle in February 2019 during a downhill training run in Are, Sweden
"I'm excited to improve, especially with the super G tomorrow," Gagnon said. "I'm happy to be in a place where I'm attacking in my skiing again. It's been a while since I have felt like that."
Meanwhile, Goggia's gutsy run led to her first victory in the discipline in almost two years.
A day after finishing runner-up to Suter in a race on the same hill, the Olympic champion from Italy turned the tables and beat the Swiss World Cup downhill champion by 0.24 seconds.
WATCH | Sofia Goggia earns her 8th World Cup victory:
Coming into this weekend, Goggia had not been on a downhill podium since winning in St. Moritz in February 2019.
It was Goggia's eighth career win, a year after her previous World Cup triumph in a super-G in Crans Montana, Switzerland. A few weeks later, she had to cut her season short after fracturing her left arm in a crash.
After all favourites were down, unheralded Norwegian skier Kajsa Vickhoff Lie, wearing bib 30, came close to bumping Johnson off the podium, but ultimately trailed the American by 6-100ths in fourth.
Many racers, including two-time world champion Ilka Stuhec, posted faster split times in the flat opening section, but no one matched Goggia's pace in the steep part, where the Italian excelled with risky turns.
Organizers had slightly adapted a tricky curve toward the end of the course that caused four racers to crash into the safety netting in Friday's race.
Austria's Nicole Schmidhofer suffered a potentially season-ending left knee injury, while two other racers who cashed — defending overall champion Federica Brignone and Alice McKennis Duran of the United States — opted not to start on Saturday.
WATCH | Schmidhofer slices through safety fencing during crash: