ARE, Sweden (AP) — Everything fell into place for Wendy Holdener.
Her two biggest challengers — Mikaela Shiffrin and Michelle Gisin — weren’t competing in the Alpine combined at the skiing world championships. Then the downhill portion of the event was shortened because of poor visibility, giving slalom specialists like Holdener a crucial advantage.
The Swiss racer just needed to nail her two runs to successfully defend the world title she won in St. Moritz in 2017.
She did exactly that, but only just.
Fifth after the downhill portion, Holdener was tied with Petra Vlhova under the floodlights after the third checkpoint in the slalom leg. Holdener then made up ground in the final stretch to edge Vlhova by 0.03 seconds and retain what may prove to be the last-ever combined title.
For the 25-year-old Holdener, the win was especially satisfying after achieving 20 podiums in World Cup slalom races without getting a victory.
“Finally I could put two good runs together and bring home the victory,” she said. “It’s the right time.”
Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway was third, 0.45 seconds behind Holdener.
Holdener, who also won the team event at last year’s Pyeongchang Olympics, has now earned gold medals at three straight major championships. She is the fifth woman to win back-to-back world titles in the combined.
Holdener was in a good position after a clean run in the downhill, with only Ramona Siebenhofer, Ilka Stuhec and then Mowinckel ahead of her. Corinne Suter was in fourth place but decided to skip the slalom.
Unheralded Canadian skier Roni Remme went off at No. 3 in the slalom and held the lead until Vlhova — eighth after the downhill — moved into first.
Holdener went two skiers later and started with an advantage of 0.30 seconds over Vlhova. That was soon wiped out in a little over 36 seconds. But to the backdrop of cowbells and loud cheers by Swiss fans near the finish, Holdener clawed it back and stretched at the line to win.
The winner of the event is determined by adding the times from one high-speed downhill run and one shorter slalom leg.
Shiffrin, who won the super-G, skipped the combined to save energy for the slalom and giant slalom. She would have been the overwhelming favorite. Gisin, the Olympic combined champion, was ruled out after she hurt her knee in a World Cup super-G race in Garmisch-Partenkirchen last month.
With seven skiers — including Lindsey Vonn — choosing not to take part in the slalom leg, the field was reduced to 26 competitors.
It further damages an event that is already under threat as the International Ski Federation decides on the future of Alpine skiing’s original Olympic discipline, which was introduced at the 1936 Winter Games.
FIS could replace Alpine combined with parallel slalom racing at future Olympics and world championships.
The men’s combined is on Monday.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80
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