All downhill for Ledecka at Lake Louise

LAKE LOUISE, Alta. — Ester Ledecka proved her versatility on snow again winning the season-opening women's World Cup downhill Friday in Lake Louise, Alta.

The Czech skier and snowboarder won Olympic gold in both alpine skiing in super-G and in snowboarding's parallel giant slalom at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

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Ledecka became the first person to win a pair of Olympic gold at a single Winter Games on two different types of equipment.

But she had never finished in the top five in a downhill until Friday. She prevailed in a race shortened and delayed by weather conditions.

Ledecka's previous best result in downhill was seventh place two years ago in Lake Louise.

The 24-year-old from Prague appeared stunned to see her time of one minute 31.87 seconds on the scoreboard in the finish corral.

"I was a little bit thinking it was some mistake, but it's OK. I'm maybe getting used to it," Ledecka said.

"I had some plan in my head how to do it from the inspection and what my coach says, and I think in some ways I was not that good in sticking to the plan.

"I thought it was not that good of a run, but in the end it was fast so that's all it matters."

Corinne Suter of Switzerland finished second in 1.32.22 and Stephanie Venier of Austria third in 1.32.32.

Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., was the top Canadian in 28th.

A second downhill is scheduled for Saturday followed by Sunday's super-G.

Defending World Cup downhill champion Nicole Schmidhofer of Austria placed seventh.

Overall World Cup champ Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States was 10th.

The women raced in conditions akin to a shaken snow globe.

Twelve centimetres accumulated overnight at the resort and mountain remained under a curtain of snow throughout the day.

The women's race was delayed an hour and the start hut moved to a lower point on the course to give course groomers time, and 500 metres less terrain, to work.

"They did such a good job that I don't think anybody was worried they could do it," Shiffrin said. "It's just we need the snow to stop now.

"When it accumulates like that, it starts to get slower on the flats and on the bottom. If you're in the soft snow, it slowed you down like crazy."

The top 30 women earned prize money from a total purse of 120,000 Swiss francs (C$160,000) and World Cup points on a descending scale.

Gagnon suffered season-ending knee and shoulder injuries training at Lake Louise two years ago and wasn't able to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The 30-year-old has stood on the World Cup podium in slalom and alpine combined. She's looking for gains in downhill and feels Friday was a step in that direction.

"I know there's a lot more in the bank," Gagnon said. "I'm in a place where I can build which is way more fun than last year."

"I didn't score any World Cup points in downhill last year. When you think about it, it's a good start. I could go from three seconds out to one in one day because I'm in a place where I'm really on top of my skis and just charging."

Ronni Remme of Collingwood, Ont., was 40th. Toronto's Candace Crawford, who was sidelined all of last season with an ankle injury, place 47th.

Shiffrin won World Cup titles last season in slalom, giant slalom and super-G en route to the overall crown.

She hasn't generated similar dominance in downhill, although the 24-year-old claimed her first win in the discipline in Lake Louise in 2017.

"I have the most experience on my speed skis here and the most comfortable feeling," Shiffrin said.

"I feel where I'm comfortable, that's always my best chance so for sure a good place to pick up some points."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2019.

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