2017 World Cup Finals: Women to watch
February 10, 2017
Lindsey Vonn, USA
Birthdate: Oct. 18, 1984
Could this be the year Lindsey Vonn returns to the top? It looked promising until she broke her arm during a training run on Copper Mountain in early November. Vonn immediately noted that at least it wasn't her knees and she planned to return to snow as soon as possible.
Not to say winning her eighth World Cup downhill championship last season was a letdown, but Vonn hasn't won the overall World Cup title since 2012, a season in which she set the women's season-long points record with 1,980.
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Vonn has been plagued by a series of injuries over the years, including a particularly nasty crash in the 2013 World Championships that cost her most of the 2013-14 season. She returned for the 2014-15 season and took third overall, winning both the downhill and super-G championships.
Last season was equally as strong for Vonn. She took second overall to Switzerland's Lara Gut, won her eighth downhill title, took third in the super-G and 18th in the giant slalom. Her season was cut short, however, a knee injury costing her the final three weeks of the season.
Considered the "most successful female ski racer in the world" — she has won the overall World Cup title four times and, as of November, had the most World Cup wins — Vonn was considered a factor for more championships, especially in the downhill, before her most recent injury.
Mikaela Shiffrin, USA
Birthdate: March 13, 1995
In contrast to Lindsey Vonn's dominance in speed events, fellow Vail resident Mikaela Shiffrin has long been America's technical queen. She won three straight slalom titles from 2013 to 2015, including a slalom gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
An injury midway through last season cost her a fourth straight crown. She still returned and took fourth in the slalom and 10th overall, but it wasn't the sort of overall success she had been used to over the previous three seasons.
Expectations are that Shiffrin will again contend for the slalom crown in 2017. However, she also has plans to put more emphasis on speed events this winter with the idea of going for the overall World Cup title.
And having the World Cup Finals in Aspen this year could benefit Shiffrin. Last November, she became the first American woman to win a World Cup race in Aspen since 1981. That victory could bring her some extra confidence come March.
"I was never sure I would be able to win here because it was so challenging," Shiffrin said in August while speaking in Aspen. "It looks really, really good on TV. It's a great show. And that's what a sport is at the end of the day — it's entertainment. Aspen, that hill, just lends itself to people wanting to see it."
Laurenne Ross, USA
Hometown: Bend, Oregon
Birthdate: Aug. 17, 1988
With Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin taking up most of the spotlight and World Cup veteran Julia Mancuso on the mend, Laurenne Ross has a chance to take that step and become the next great American woman on skis.
Ross had her best season last winter, taking 18th overall, 10th in the downhill, and eighth in the super-G. She may be a ways from being able to match Vonn in the speed events — the same can be said for almost any skier — but has U.S. women's ski team head coach Paul Kristofic more than a little excited about her potential this winter.
"We've got Laurenne Ross coming off her best season last year, so that's another strong athlete to watch out for in the speed events," Kristofic said.
Ross' career highlight outside of
the World Cup came when she took 11th in the downhill at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Anna Veith, Austria
Hometown: Adnet, Austria
Birthdate: June 18, 1989
It wasn't that long ago when Anna Veith — formerly Anna Fenninger — was on top of the ski universe. She was the overall World Cup champion in both 2014 and 2015, but was unable to go for a third straight title when she hurt her knee in a training accident last October, costing her the season.
In the 2014-15 season, Veith was virtually unstoppable. While Tina Maze, Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin gave it a good run, taking second, third, and fourth overall, respectively, Veith's dominance was too much. Veith was both the GS and combined champion that season, and took second in both the downhill and super-G. She did not compete in the slalom.
Veith also won the GS championship during the 2013-14 season.
Whether she again factors in for the overall crown remains to be seen this season. Veith opted out of competing in the World Cup opener in Soelden, Austria, in October, claiming her surgically repaired knee wasn't quite ready for race action. When she does return, however, expect a crowded contingent of women vying for the World Cup title in March.
Lara Gut, Switzerland – Update: Gut out of finals with torn ACL
Hometown: Sorengo, Switzerland
Birthdate: April 27, 1991
After three straight top-10 overall World Cup finishes — including a third-place finish in 2014 — it finally came together for Lara Gut last winter. The Swiss speedster won her second career super-G title en route to winning the overall World Cup title over Lindsey Vonn and Germany's Viktoria Rebensburg.
Gut had little competition over
the final weeks of the 2016 season,
with Vonn's injury sidelining her for the final stretch and Rebensburg's lack of slalom racing making it difficult to catch Gut in points.
Gut was as strong as they come across the board. She also finished fourth in downhill, third in GS and second in Alpine combined, proving she is one of best all-around skiers in the world.
Now, Gut will be tasked with defending her overall title in what should be a competitive women's field this winter.
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