At last, Tina Maze returned to a familiar position — the top of the podium — two weeks before the Sochi Olympics.
The Slovenian skiing and singing sensation won a World Cup downhill in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, on Saturday, her long-awaited first victory of the season after unprecedented domination last year.
“There were a lot of emotions,” Maze said, according to The Associated Press. “It was a really long time. … When I find the right feeling like I found it today I can ski fast.”
Maze prevailed in 1 minute, 37.79 seconds in the Italian Dolomites, beating Swiss Marianne Kaufman-Abderhalden by .27. Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather was third, followed by German World Cup overall leader Maria Hoefl-Riesch in fourth.
The top Americans were Stacey Cook and Julia Mancuso in fifth and seventh, their second straight day in the top 10 as they continue to improve from a slow start to the season.
“This week has been a perfect preparation for the Olympics,” Mancuso said, according to the U.S. Ski Team. “I couldn’t be in a better place right now, and I am excited I was able to come out of that valley and be ready to fight for medals.”
But the day belonged to Maze, a broken record phrase last season.
How dominant was Maze in 2012-13? Here are some stats:
*Led the overall standings from wire to wire over 35 races.
*Finished first or second in all five race disciplines.
*Made the podium a record 24 times in one season.
*Shattered the record for most points in a season with 2,414 (Hermann Maier had 2,000).
*Had more than twice as many points as second place (Hoefl-Riesch).
*Shattered the record for margin of victory with 1,313 (Maier had 743).
All of which made it shocking it took Maze until the 22nd race for her maiden win of the follow-up season. She didn’t free fall, but she was clearly not in form the first couple months, making three podiums over the first 12 races.
“It’s always difficult after that kind of season [in 2012-13],” Maze told Reuters recently. “I know I’m in the best shape of my career even if I’m not showing it.
Two weeks ago, Maze announced she split with Italian coach Walter Ronconi and replaced him with Swiss Mauro Pini. Ronconi was not the coach responsible for Maze’s rise to Alpine’s zenith. He had replaced Livio Magoni, who left after last season for a spot with the Italian women’s team.
Maze’s boyfriend, Andrea Massi, still oversees Maze and is labeled as the head coach or team manager in various reports.
Now, Maze can take confidence into not only the remaining World Cup races (beginning with a super-G in Cortina on Sunday) but also Sochi.
Lindsey Vonn‘s absence leaves an opening for a new woman to become an Olympic star. Maze, 30, will be going to her fourth Games, already owning silver medals from the 2010 Olympic super-G and giant slalom.
She has the talent to win medals in all five Olympic races and put pressure on Mikaela Shiffrin in slalom, though that is her weakest event.
Cortina d’Ampezzo Downhill
1. Tina Maze (SLO) 1:37.79
2. Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden (SUI) 1:38.06
3. Tina Weirather (LIE) 1:38.17
4. Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) 1:38.33
5. Anna Fenninger (AUT) 1:38.35
5. Stacey Cook (USA) 1:38.35
7. Julia Mancuso (USA) 1:38.42
8. Dominique Gisin (SUI) 1:38.46
9. Nicole Schmidhofer (AUT) 1:38.52
10. Lara Gut (SUI) 1:38.58