Marie-Michèle Gagnon ends 5-year podium drought with super-G bronze in Garmisch

·4 min read

Quebec skier Marie-Michèle Gagnon has reached the podium for the first time since Feb. 28, 2016, earning a bronze medal in women's super-G on Saturday in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

While preparing for her 13th World Cup season in the fall, the native of Lac-Etchemin, Que., told CBC Sports the challenge of catching the elite women in Alpine speed events remained a "game of patience."

On Saturday, Gagnon negotiated one of the more demanding courses on the circuit to finish in one minute 16.63 seconds for her first-ever podium in a speed event and fifth of her World Cup career.

"It was a very good day. I was very surprised, but I had a good feeling all day," the 31-year-old told Alpine Canada after bumping Olympic champion Sofia Goggia of Italy from the podium. "I felt confident with my plan.

WATCH | Gagnon captures Canada's 1st alpine World Cup medal this season:

"The snow conditions allowed for a good result from the back and I could attack the whole course."

Gagnon, who won the Alpine combined event nearly five years ago in Andorra, placed 11th last week in a downhill at Crans-Montana, Switzerland, where Goggia prevailed. The Canadian also finished a career-best 10th on Dec. 19 in Val d'Isere, France in another downhill won by Goggia.

"I've committed to this, and it's starting to work and starting to show success because it did take longer than I thought," the national team member since 2007 said in December.

'Mental hurdle'

On Nov. 30, 2017, Gagnon crashed into the netting during downhill training in Lake Louise, Alta., tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee and dislocating her left shoulder.

She wasn't entirely comfortable skiing fast for 14 months after the injury until a World Cup stop in Crans-Montana in February 2019.

It's great to be confident going into world champs. I just have to ski the skis. — Canadian skier Marie-Michele Gagnon

"The mental [hurdle] of coming back into the speed discipline was a lot harder than I thought it would be," Gagnon said in October prior to this season's opener in Soelden, Austria. "Consciously, I was feeling good but subconsciously my body was like, no, you're not doing this."

Gagnon believed she turned a corner on Jan. 24, 2020 in Bansko, Bulgaria, where the two-time Olympian finished a then-career-high 13th at a World Cup downhill.

"My goal is to be a lot better than 20th, 30th or 13th," Gagnon, who has 240 World Cup races under her belt, said last fall. "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."

Gagnon, who arrived in Switzerland last August to resume ski-race training during the coronavirus pandemic, overcame cancelled training runs and rescheduled race programs leading up to Saturday's event on the final weekend of racing ahead of the world championships next month in Italy.

"It's great to be confident going into world champs, it gives you a 10 per cent edge over the competition," she said. "I just have to ski the skis. I'm really excited for [competing in] Cortina [d'Ampezzo].

Vlhova's overall lead cut to 62 points

"I want to push, and I'm not scared of going down, just excited."

Gagnon returns to action on Sunday.

WATCH | Gut-Behrami speeds to 3rd straight super-G win:

Lara Gut-Behrami reached the top of the podium Saturday for her third straight win in the discipline. The Swiss skier clocked 1:15.70, 0.68 seconds ahead of Norway's Kajsa Vickhoff Lie, who achieved her first career podium result.

Goggia, who is on a four-race winning streak in downhill, finished fourth, ahead of Austria's Christine Scheyer and Olympic super-G champion Ester Ledecka.

Overall leader Petra Vlhova finished 10th, and the Slovakian skier saw her advantage over Gut-Behrami in the season standings reduced to 62 points.

"A few months ago, people asked me if I was still able to win a race at all. Now people start talking about the [overall] World Cup. It shows how fast things can change in sport," said Gut-Behrami, who had not won a race between 2018 and 2020.

"For me it's important that I keep my level of skiing, that I can be fast like today and enjoy it."