LAKE LOUISE, Alberta - Elena Fanchini of Italy planned to listen and learn in her first full World Cup season. Instead, she is already doing the teaching.
The 20-year-old Fanchini won her first World Cup title Friday, capturing the inaugural women’s downhill of the season in 1 minute, 49.33 seconds at frigid Lake Louise.
“I am totally surprised,” the 5-foot-3 dynamo said through an interpreter. “I came on the World Cup tour this winter with the goal to learn and just to gain experience. I can’t really explain how I’m here winning this race. It’s really amazing.”
Fanchini edged a pair of veteran Austrians. Michaela Dorfmeister was second at 1:49.43 and Alexandra Meissnitzer third at 1:49.60 on the bitter cold afternoon with soft snowfall and the temperature at 1 degree.
U.S. skiers finished fourth, fifth and eighth, led by Julia Mancuso at 1:50.00. Defending champion Lindsey Kildow was fifth at 1:50.05. The big breakthrough came from American Stacey Cook, who was eighth at 1:50.49. Her previous World Cup best was 31st, at Lake Louise a year ago.
Dorfmeister, who has 21 World Cup victories and will retire after this season, has had great success at Lake Louise. This was her fourth second-place finish here, and she is the defending Lake Louise super-G champion.
A second downhill is scheduled Saturday, with a super-G race Sunday.
Fanchini burst onto the World Cup scene with a second-place finish in last year’s world championships. After being sidelined for 20 months recovering from knee injuries, her only previous World Cup downhill was a 17th-place finish at Santa Caterina, Italy.
Fanchini wore the words “Ciao Mama” on the tape that the skiers used to cover their face to ward off frostbite. With the Winter Olympics in her home country in February, she said she welcomes the attention her triumph will bring back home.
“That’s perfect you know because people don’t speak enough about ski racing in Italy,” Fanchini said. “We always talk about soccer. It’s about time. With the Olympics coming up, it’s great to start to talk about skiing.”
Lucia Recchia of Italy was taken by helicopter off the mountain after a crash midway down the course. Recchia has a history of concussions, but only had a bloody nose and no major injuries, race officials said.
Kildow, whose lone World Cup victory came in the same race a year ago, was the leader through much of the competition, but she knew it wouldn’t stay that way.
“I made too many mistakes,” she said, “but anything in the top five is good. There’s another downhill tomorrow.”
Kildow, who earned her 13th top-five finish, lost more than a half-second when she went sideways on a tricky, sharp turn three-quarters through the race.
“It’s nice to know you can have a not-so-perfect run and still do well,” she said.
Cook, a member of the U.S. Alpine B team, could hardly believe her finish.
“I had a good training run yesterday so I knew that I was capable of doing well, but I wouldn’t have guessed I would be here today,” the 21-year-old from Truckee, Calif., said. “It’s a huge confidence boost.”
Cook, with Mancuso’s help, drew a cat nose and whiskers on the tape the skiers put across their face to protect against frostbite in ski speeds that reached 70 mph.
“I learned a lot today about what I have to do to ski and be with these girls,” she said. “I actually executed my plan, which I’ve never been able to do before.”