SÖLDEN, Austria (AP) — Swiss skier Marco Odermatt edged surprise first-run leader Roland Leitinger of Austria by .07 of a second Sunday to win the season-opening men’s World Cup giant slalom.
American racer River Radamus, who impressed with an acrobatic recovery during his first run, finished sixth for his best World Cup result.
Odermatt was third after the opening leg, .21 behind Leitinger and .02 behind GS world champion Matthieu Faivre, but used an attacking second run to put both racers ahead of him under pressure.
Erik Read of Canmore, Alta., finished in 18th place and Trevor Philp of Calgary was 22nd
Faivre dropped to 11th and Leitinger lost fractions on Odermatt at most splits, but still got his career-best result on the World Cup after winning silver at the 2017 world championships.
“Amazing, it was a long and hard summer, we trained so hard," Odermatt said.
“Sölden is always special for me. Five years ago I scored my first World Cup points here. To start the season with a victory... 70 guys dreamed about that today,” said the Swiss skier, referring to the 71-starter field.
It was Odermatt's third career GS win, after finishing second in last season’s discipline standings following race wins it Italy and Slovenia.
Odermatt denied Leitinger the chance to become the first Austrian male skier other than Marcel Hirscher to win a GS since Philipp Schörghofer triumphed in February 2011. Record eight-time overall champion Hirscher, who retired two years ago, dominated the discipline for many years, winning the GS season title on six occasions.
Zan Kranjec of Slovenia was one tenth of a second behind in third, followed by Odermatt's Swiss teammate Gino Caviezel in fourth and defending overall and GS World Cup champion Alexis Pinturault in fifth.
Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, the 2020 overall champion who missed the final two months of last season with a knee injury, sat out the race to prepare for upcoming speed events.
Kilde's Norwegian teammate Lucas Braathen, who won the race last year before also sustaining a season-ending knee injury, posted the fastest second-run time to finish seventh.
Radamus avoided crashing out when his right ski came up high in the air and the American did well to stay on the course and post the ninth-fastest time in his first run. He added an attacking but solid second run to gain three spots and finish .68 behind Odermatt.
“I just really wanted to go in the season charging and leave it all out there,” said Radamus, whose previous best result in GS was 14th in a race in Bulgaria last February.
“I feel like I’ve had the speed in training. And so I am just trying to be more fearless, take it to it more and try to attack. I made a lot of mistakes, but it paid off in the end because I was pushing the limit.”
Radamus was the junior world champion in GS in 2019 but has struggled to replicate those results in World Cup races.
“I felt like too many times last year, I regretted the turns that I didn’t charge as opposed to the mistakes I made,” he said. “I am really proud of my intensity and proud of my effort.”
Radamus attracted attention not only for his skiing, but also for keeping up his tradition of arriving at the season-opening race in Austria sporting a colorful do.
“Just to kick off the season,” he said, pointing to the panther-like colors on his head. “This one is from Chad Fleischer, American great speed skier from years past. So, it’s my tribute to him, it’s cool and it gets a lot of comments.”
Another U.S. ski team member, Ryan Cochran-Siegle, made his return to the World Cup nine months after sustaining a minor fracture of his neck in a crash in Kitzbühel.
Cochran-Siegle finished 31st and missed out on qualifying for the second run by one hundredth of a second.
The World Cup continues in Austria with the only parallel event of the season in Lech/Zürs on November 14.
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Eric Willemsen, The Associated Press