Ilka Stuhec, downhill world champ, gets first win since ACL tear

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SELVA DI VAL GARDENA, Italy (AP) — It was just about a year ago when Ilka Stuhec gave up on competing at the PyeongChang Olympics.

Coming off a career season that included a downhill world title and the season-long World Cup downhill title, Stuhec rushed back on snow two months after knee surgery.

“I said I really want to ski in 2017, so I went Dec. 31,” Stuhec said. “Because there was still some part of me that believed I could make the Olympics. But I would just go there without confidence, without training, not really trusting the knee. So I let that one go really soon.

“It hurt a lot,” Stuhec added of her New Year’s Eve return to snow.

The Slovenian skier quickly switched her focus to this season. Her patience paid off when she won a World Cup downhill on Tuesday for the first victory of her comeback.

Stuhec finished .14 of a second ahead of Nicol Delago, who grew up alongside the Saslong course in the Italian Dolomites. Ramona Siebenhofer of Austria came third, 0.51 behind. Full results are here.

“It’s really emotional because it’s been a very, very long time since I won,” Stuhec said. “And over the last year a lot of things were very different than I was planning.”

Stuhec missed all of last season tearing her left ACL in an October 2017 preseason training crash in Pitztal, Austria.

She watched the Olympics in February from home — “I was the crazy fan waking up at three in the morning” — and wasn’t quite satisfied with her initial results this season, cracking the top 10 once in her opening four races.

“I had very high goals when I started racing again,” she said. “But that also meant that I put a lot of pressure on myself, which didn’t come out that well, and I thought, ‘OK, this not going to go so well.’ So I just need to focus on the moment, ski the way I know and have fun and not think about how fast it’s going to be.”

While Stuhec wasn’t perfect Tuesday, she was unbeatable on the Saslong course, which is hosting women’s World Cup races for the first time — despite being a classic stop on the men’s circuit for a half-century.

The course was shortened for the women, and many of the technical sections were left out, including the camel bump jumps — prompting some racers to complain that it wasn’t challenging enough.

“I liked it a lot from the first (training) run,” Stuhec said. “In the end it’s still downhill, which is never easy, even if it maybe looks like that sometimes.”

A super-G is scheduled for Wednesday on the Saslong.

The races were originally scheduled for Val d’Isere, France, over the weekend but were moved to Val Gardena because of a lack of snow in the French resort.

Nicole Schmidhofer, the Austrian who won the opening two downhills of the season, finished 10th. She still leads the downhill standings by 68 points ahead of Stuhec.

Skier-snowboarder Ester Ledecka, fastest in the second training run, finished 29th following a series of errors.

Overall World Cup leader Mikaela Shiffrin is sitting out the races to rest up for a big block of upcoming technical events — her specialty — beginning Friday and Saturday in Courchevel, France.

Also missing are Lindsey Vonn and Olympic downhill gold medalist Sofia Goggia, who are out injured until at least January.

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