PUY ST. VINCENT, France -- Switzerland's Zoe Haas, whose poor form last season almost convinced her to give up skiing, scored a shock win Thursday in the first women's downhill race of the World Cup season.
Slotted to start way down at No. 37 in the field, she stormed out to grabvictory from favored Marina Kiehl of West Germany, who had looked the most impressive in training and practice all week.
Haas, 22, from Engelberg, Switzerland, was timed in 1 minute, 26.30 seconds, edging Kiehl into second place at 1:26.35. Irene Epple of West Germany was third in 1:26.55.
The win gave Haas a tie for first place in the overall standings with Perrine Pelen of France, both with 25 points. Maria Epple and Marina Kiehl of West Germany are tied for second with 20 at this early stage of the season.
Haas' victory run came after Kiehl and Epple had already congratulated each other on what appeared to be a one-two West German sweep.
'I didn't know if I could keep racing until the 1988 Winter Olympics,' the amazed Haas said after her shock triumph, 'but now I'm sure I will.'
Haas won on the L'Arlesienne course, which has a 565 meter drop through 34 gates, despite a starting slot normally considered too far back to challenge the leaders in a downhill race. Of the 77 who started only four failed to finish.
Kiehl grabbed an early lead and Epple moved into second place after starting 15th.
'I did much better than I expected,' a laughing, shouting Epple said as she hugged Kiehl during what proved to be a premature celebration.
'It's a good start to my comeback, I'm so happy. The course suited me, but I had to make up some time to Marina through some gates near the top. I'm proud of myself.'
Kiehl, who admitted to preferring giant slalom to the uniquely demanding downhill, said the curves on the course were good for her style, explaining, 'The sharp turns were perfect for a giant slalom specialist, the race suited me just fine.'
Olympic downhill gold medalist Michele Figini and Swiss teammate Maria Walliser, who looked set for top five finishes during the early stage of the race, had to settle for 11th and eighth spots respectively.
Figini, from the Italian-speaking section of Switzerland, said the course was marginally faster than during practice, and Walliser said she was not disappointed with her showing.
'I did not have any great training runs, so I'm pleased with my finish,' Walliser, the downhill World Cup holder, said. 'It was a good race and it will certainly help me improve my standings this season.'
The women now move to Davos, Switzerland, for a super giant slalom scheduled for Saturday. The men began arriving into Puy St. Vincent Thursday for Friday's super giant slalom.
World Cup men will also compete in a giant slalom Saturday at Puy before heading 60 kilometers west to Sestriere, Italy, for a slalom and giant slalom Monday and Tuesday.