Bellissimo!

DARREN FRIESEN -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 2:02 PM ET

LAKE LOUISE -- Elena Fanchini of Italy had already punched her ticket to the Turin Games in February with it being her home country and all.

But what she didn't know was that she'd be heading there as one of the favourites.

Racing out of the gates with the No. 30 bib yesterday, the 20-year-old Italian edged the Austrian juggernaut of Michaela Dorfmeister -- last year's super-G winner here at the Winterstart World Cup -- and Alexandra Meissnitzer to claim her first downhill victory in a time of 1:49:33.

"This is incredible," said Fanchini through a translator. "I'm totally surprised because I came on the World Cup this winter to learn and to increase my speed and to just gain experience, so I really can't explain how I'm here winning this race."

There was no podium in the cards for the Canadian team, however, there were some surprise finishes to say the least.

With the clouds clearing in the latter stages, Calgarian Shona Rubens took full advantage of the fast track and managed to grab the 15th spot -- 1:50:76 -- after starting 58th out of 60-plus racers.

For Rubens, 19, the finish came as a shock considering it was her first World Cup downhill race.

"This is unbelievable, I'm ecstatic," said Rubens. "Today the course really got a lot faster because the sun warmed it up. Because there's a lot of flats, it got a lot faster but I really attacked today and I definitely had my strongest run over the last four days."

In another late surprise, Rubens' teammate Sherry Lawrence, who also hails from Calgary, finished 28th just behind Kelly Vanderbeek of Kitchener, Ont.

While Vanderbeek has already claimed her Olympic spot on the Canadian team with her top-30 performance, both Rubens and Lawrence nudged themselves one step closer by doing the same.

"I'm really happy because what I wanted was top 30 and that's what I got," said Lawrence, timed at 1:51:66. "It's nice to get that first World Cup top-30 out of the way, especially being at home because it was really relaxed. Running so far back it didn't even feel like race day for half the day."

Racing was halted for a brief period as Lucia Recchia was injured after she hit a gate and slid into the fence. Canadian medics airlifted her and she was being held in the medical tent with a mild concussion and cut on her chin.

As for Fanchini, whose only other podium finish was a silver at the world championship last year in Santa Caterina, Italy, she kept repeating the one word she knew the English media would be able to translate -- 'bellissimo.'

Two other Canadians finished the race with Allison Forsyth of Canmore ended her day in 31st with a time of 1:51:66, while Fernie's Emily Brydon had another disappointing performance, finishing 38th (1:52:04).

The second downhill race goes today at 12:30 p.m. and the super-G is set for tomorrow.


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