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Ilka Stuhec’s stunning start to ski season is a family affair

Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec celebrates as she crosses the finish line during an alpine ski, women’s World Cup downhill, in Val D’Isere, France, Saturday, Dec.17, 2016. (Marco Tacca / Associated Press)
Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec celebrates as she crosses the finish line during an alpine ski, women’s World Cup downhill, in Val D’Isere, France, Saturday, Dec.17, 2016. (Marco Tacca / Associated Press)
By Jerome Pugmire Associated Press

VAL D’ISERE, France – Ilka Stuhec’s stunning start to the World Cup ski season is a family affair.

After winning the downhill in Val d’Isere on Saturday – her third downhill win and fourth victory overall – she praised the person who looks after her skis.

“It’s my mum,” Stuhec said. “She’s preparing my skis, which she does the best.”

Stuhec planned to make a couple of calls before getting some rest, as she prepares for a super-G here on Sunday.

“I will just call my sister and my dad and that will be it,” she said. “Then I will just turn off my phone, otherwise it will go crazy again.”

Race winners in the French Alpine resort are traditionally offered a cow, which they get to name.

Stuhec will name her cow Isa (pronounced Isha).

“My dog’s name,” Stuhec explained. “We had to euthanize (the dog) one week ago. That’s why I’m crying now.”

Before this year, Stuhec’s best World Cup finish was fourth in a super-G in 2013.

Over the summer, frustrated by insufficient support from the Slovenian ski federation, she took matters into her own hands.

“I needed to make a huge step and make my own team,” she said. “It was really hard at the beginning. We did get some support from the federation, but for sure I hoped for more.”

She sensed her fortunes were turning for the better just before her breakthrough weekend in Lake Louise this month, when she won both downhill races and placed fifth in a super-G.

“I had this weird feeling, like `It’s time,“’ she said. “I felt really confident. It’s working, I guess.”

It certainly is.

Stuhec’s latest success followed her win on Friday in an Alpine combined. She was up to third in the overall World Cup standings.

On the Oreiller-Killy course bathed in morning sunshine, Stuhec finished .28 seconds ahead of Austrian Cornelia Huetter and .32 clear of Italian Soffia Goggia, who is also enjoying a breakthrough season.

Goggia also had a career best of fourth before this season, and now has six podiums in eight races. She was also third on Friday, and strengthened her grip on second in the overall, 31 points behind American slalom specialist Mikaela Shiffrin.

“Everyone asks me about the overall, but actually it’s not my goal,” Goggia said. “Maybe when I was a child and I was dreaming about having this crystal globe in my hands.”

Still, Goggia is confident that she can turn her podium finishes into wins.

“I still haven’t found my limit yet on the downhill,” she said. “I have more to give.”

Three Italians, including two sisters, completed the top six: Nadia Fanchini was fourth, then Johanna Schnarf and Elena Fanchini

But the day belonged to Stuhec as she accelerated away on the bottom section to beat Huetter, who has 10 career podiums.

After crossing the line, Stuhec put her hands over her face and then sank onto her back, shaking her head in disbelief.

“It was a surprise for me. Coming down and seeing the No. 1 (on the screen),” Stuhec said. “I thought I’d made too many mistakes.”

Meanwhile, defending World Cup overall champion Lara Gut of Switzerland failed to finish for the second straight race, skiing off course after losing balance on the top section.

“There are days when you feel well and you ski well, and there are some when you just cannot bring it all together,” said Gut, who explained that a bump on the course led to her mishap. “That’s how it goes.”

Gut came here with a great chance of overtaking Shiffrin, but remains 105 points behind and has dropped down to fourth overall. She needs to score big points on Sunday.

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