Lara Gut closes on overall title, 9th after combined slalom
LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland (AP) Even the recently cautious Lara Gut now says the overall World Cup title in Alpine skiing is ''99.9 percent'' hers.
Gut racked up more race points Sunday, finishing third on home Swiss snow in a fog-delayed combined event that her closest active rival Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany chose to skip.
Rebensburg, who does not ski slalom, conceded defeat in the season-long points chase on Saturday, and Gut made sure of victory by padding her lead to 355 ahead of four races left in finals week at nearby St. Moritz.
''It might be 99.9 percent mine but I still have three of my races to race and it is only on the 20th (next Sunday) that I will think about it,'' Gut said.
Still, ski fans in Alpine-crazed Switzerland who waited 21 years for a women's all-around champion were in celebration mode Sunday.
Gut effectively sealed the giant crystal globe by finishing third but a popular race win went to teammate Wendy Holdener, who used a surprise fast run in the afternoon super-G to protect her lead from the morning slalom leg.
Holdener also edged Gut, the long-time Swiss team star, for the season title in combined to earn her a first career crystal trophy.
Showing much more emotion than Gut, Holdener both cried and laughed in the finish area. She had a combined time 0.46 seconds faster than runner-up Michaela Kirchgasser of Austria, with Gut a further 0.01 back.
Gut's reaction was low-key on taking a provisional lead after her favored super-G run, punching both fists low at her sides without smiling.
''I am lucky that I have a lot of experience,'' Gut explained later. Though aged just 24, she was a teenage prodigy who won two silver medals at her first world championships in 2009. ''It is not the first time I am under pressure.''
A career peak for Gut came with less drama than expected. She started Sunday needing only a top-25 finish to take a decisive 300-point lead on Rebensburg and had earlier skied safely in slalom to be ninth fastest.
Lindsey Vonn's season-ending knee injury two weeks ago when leading the standings denied the sport an expected thrilling duel for its most coveted prize.
Gut acknowledged that Vonn's challenge then absence - after a mid-season injury to another American superstar rival, Mikaela Shiffrin - affected her thinking.
''Every week there was a different situation,'' said Gut, who has six race wins this season to Vonn's nine. ''I realized in the last few weeks that if I only concentrate on my skiing, it is easier.''
Vonn, a four-time overall winner, could yet retain her second place in the standings ahead of Rebensburg. She will also get a crystal trophy as downhill standings winner, and still leads in super-G ahead of the final scheduled race on Thursday.
Gut is favored to take that super-G title from Vonn on a St. Moritz course where she has won previously, and which stages World Cup finals week as a test ahead of hosting the 2017 worlds.
Gut is the first Swiss woman to win the overall title since Vreni Schneider in 1995. The World Cup honor roll will not recall that knee injuries took out Vonn in February and two-time defending champion Anna Fenninger of Austria last October. Or that Tina Maze of Slovenia, the 2013 winner, sat out the season.
Victory this year has prepared Gut well to defend her title in a high-class field, according to Didier Cuche. The Swiss great mentored Gut a little this season after she switched ski supplier and worked with Cuche's former technician.
''She learned a lot this year. That was a very interesting fight with Lindsey Vonn, to learn how to cope with the nerves,'' Cuche told The Associated Press. ''Maze, Fenninger, Lindsey and all the others coming back. That will be very interesting.''