St. Moritz (Switzerland) (AFP) - Lara Gut was ruled out for the rest of the season after a crash on Friday but Switzerland still claimed a one-two in the women's combined at the World Ski Championship with Wendy Holdener taking gold.
Gut, 25, a top Swiss medal hope, was airlifted to hospital after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus of her left knee during the warm-up for the slalom, part of the combined along with the downhill.
"Lara Gut's season is over," a Swiss team spokesman confirmed.
The Swiss golden girl had finished third in the alpine combined's opening downhill run, but fell during her slalom training and was taken by helicopter to hospital in St Moritz where scans confirmed the serious knee injury.
Holdener, who was down in seventh after the opening downhill with a deficit of 0.94sec, showed all her slalom prowess to time a combined 1min 58.88sec for the world title.
Her Swiss teammate Michelle Gisin claimed silver at a razor thin deficit of 0.05sec, with Austrian Michaela Kirchgasser taking bronze (+0.38).
American Lindsey Vonn just missed out on the podium, finishing fifth.
"It was very sad," Gisin said of Gut's injury. "She's a big guarantee for medals and good performances and for sure number one of our team.
"But that's life and that's sport. Misery and happiness are so close. I hope she'll be back soon. I'm crossing my fingers for a perfect rehab and a prompt comeback."
In Gut's absence, there was drama to the end for home fans as Holdener and Gisin awaited with baited breath the descents of Slovenia's Ilka Stuhec and Italian Sofia Goggia, leader after the downhill, having hit a top speed of 121kph down a course shortened because of heavy early morning snowfall.
With Swiss flags waving,
Stuhec, winner of this season's sole combined event in Val d'Isere in December, lasted but three gates before sliding out.
"It went really quickly! It's skiing, it's slalom and mistakes happen," said Stuhec.
"I will try to stay positive and focused on the main event (Sunday's downhill)."
Then came the turn of Goggia, the Italian suffering the same fate after six gates to allow the large partisan home support a large amount of succour after the loss of Gut.
- Swiss joy after heartbreak -
"It feels great," beamed the 23-year-old Holdener. "I can't believe it.
"It's not just a teammate, but a friend of mine," she said of sharing the podium with youth rival Gisin, who promised "there was much more to come".
There was heartbreak too for Vonn, a three-time World Cup combined crystal globe winner, unable to make up the leaders' deficit despite a gutsy slalom run.
Vonn eventually finished fifth, 0.85sec off Holdener's pace, and will be left decrying what was in her books a mediocre sixth best downhill, albeit with her right hand taped to her pole to better help with gripping problems linked to the broken humerus she sustained in November.
"I might not have skied a slalom in over a year, but I still know how to ski slalom, I'm not that bad!" joked an upbeat Vonn who all the while decried the shortening of the downhill.
"I was pretty disappointed by that decision because the weather was fine for everyone. I understand that they have to make sure to get the race off. But then I think the slalom race should be shortened as well because it's too big of a disadvantage.
"The first four girls are all slalom skiers."
Vonn added: "But at the end of the day, it's a winter sport and you have to take what you get and do your best.
"All in all today was a really positive day. I'm really proud of my performance. I know it wasn't a medal but it was only couple of tenths away."