BEAVER CREEK, Colorado (Reuters) - Austria's Anna Fenninger knows all about the pressure that comes with racing on home snow and, free of that burden, flew to victory in the opening event of the world championships on Tuesday, adding the Super-G gold to her Olympic title.
No nation expects more from their alpine skiers than Austria and when they race at home those expectations fall on them like an avalanche. Two years ago, when Schladming staged the worlds, the hosts managed only a single gold from Marcel Hirscher in the slalom, while the women were kept off the top of the podium.
Fenninger guaranteed the Austrian women would not return home form Beaver Creek without gold when she denied Slovenian Tina Maze a successful defense of her Super G title by .03 seconds. American favorite Lindsey Vonn settled for third.
This year those lofty expectations have dropped squarely on American skiers and in particular Vonn, the most successful women's alpine skier of all-time with 64 World Cup wins who is returning to the Vail Valley where she grew honing her skills.
"I know what it means for an athlete when you race a world championship at home because two years go it was in my home country and there was a lot of pressure from outside and I know what it is," said Fenninger.
"For me it was really cool that she (Vonn) could win a medal today. It is not as easy as it seems."
The reigning overall World Cup champion, Fenninger has often made it look all too effortless but this season she has met her share of frustration.
She kicked off the season in style winning the season opener, a giant slalom at home in Soelden, but did not return to the top of podium until Tuesday. She has finished second six times over the last 13 races, including a pair of runner-up results behind Vonn in the final two Super-G races before arriving in Vail.
"I had not that much pressure today, like two years ago in Schladming," said Fenninger, who has used her speed on snow to help promote and support the Cheetah Conservation Fund.
"I knew that I could win because I had six second place finishes in the World Cup and it was always very close.
"I always said, the last thing I need is a bit of luck and I think I had it today because the race was so tight and the hundredths were on my side."
Editing by Patrick Johnston