Ruiz Castillo gives new sparkle to Spanish skiing

Downhill victory in Méribel is first of its kind for nation deprived of previous favorite by injury

Madrid -
Spain's Carolina Ruiz Castillo reacts in the finish area as she wins the FIS Ski World Cup women's downhill in Méribel.
Spain's Carolina Ruiz Castillo reacts in the finish area as she wins the FIS Ski World Cup women's downhill in Méribel.JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT (AFP)

Carolina Ruiz Castillo put Spain back on the alpine skiing map by winning the women’s World Cup downhill in Méribel, France on Saturday, the first victory in the sport’s blue riband event by any Spaniard.

At 31, the skier from Granada who trains in France, outpaced the leading favorites to clinch her first World Cup victory, 13 years after her only podium to date in a giant slalom in Sestrière.

Ruiz Castillo won in one minute, 42.56 seconds to bridge a seven-year gap since the last top spot earned by compatriot María José Rienda Contreras in a giant slalom in Hafjell seven years ago. Knee injuries forced the six-time World Cup event winner to retire in 2011.

It was almost a home win for popular speed specialist Ruiz Castillo as she regularly trains with the French team and had the chance to practice on the Méribel course, which had not been used on the World Cup circuit for 19 years. “It’s a formidable achievement after all the commitment and hard work for so many years in difficult conditions,” said the skier born in Chile but who grew up in the shadow of Granada’s Sierra Nevada.

“Fortunately, this year I had the opportunity to train well with the French and I knew I had the potential as I’m really strong in practice. It’s a great day for me as the conditions suited me ideally,” the Spaniard added referring to the smooth technical course.

With the Winter Olympics in Sochi just a year away, Ruiz Castillo’s performance gives back some hope to Spanish skiing fans after the disappointment of Rienda Contreras’ retirement. “This is very important; it’s like having a Fernando Alonso,” Rienda Contreras said after Saturday’s result in Méribel.

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