Unheralded U.S. skiers ready to step out of the shadows in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Unheralded U.S. skiers ready to step out of the shadows in Aspen

Nate PetersonAspen, CO Colorado

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

ASPEN Kaylin Richardson’s to-do list before leaving Aspen?Stock up on peanut butter, get some good Mexican food and score some World Cup points.Libby Lublow has a list of her own that’s a near match. It includes using her in-network cell phone minutes to talk with family back in Washington state, filling up on local cuisine and turning in a strong result in front of a U.S. crowd.

To be sure, the collective hopes for an American podium result at this year’s Winternational races on Aspen Mountain aren’t centered around Ludlow and Richardson.The two skiers expected to carry the torch for the U.S. Ski Team in Friday’s and Saturday’s speed races (which includes the first World Cup women’s downhill in the U.S. in a decade) are 23-year-olds Julia Mancuso and Lindsey Vonn.Forgive Richardson and Ludlow for wanting to be mentioned in the same conversation as their ballyhooed teammates. “It definitely motivates you,” said Richardson of her teammates’ success on the World Cup circuit last year. “We’ve been training with these girls all summer. When you’re training, everyone’s vying to be fast. We know that we’re training with the best in the world … That gives you confidence going into races. You can be like, ‘I don’t have to do anything different. I know I’m going fast.'”With Vonn sidelined by injury, Richardson, 23, won the downhill title at March’s U.S. National Championships in Alyeska, Alaska. Considering her upbringing on short, icy slalom and giant slalom tracks in her native Minnesota, the result surprised even Richardson herself. She hopes it translates into better showings this season in speed events on the World Cup circuit. She was 26th last year in the super G standings and 19th in combined (slalom and downhill).

“When you get to a certain point, at the elite level, I’d say it’s five percent physical and 95 percent mental,” Richardson said. “Seriously, because on any given day, any girl on the World Cup tour has the talent to have a winning run. It just comes to the point of taking it to the next level and believing in yourself and committing to what you want to do.”Ludlow, 26, is the only U.S. skier in town to have won on Aspen Mountain before – claiming a NorAm super G here in 2002.A Bellevue, Wash., native who now calls Seattle home, she looked well on her way to joining Mancuso and Vonn on World Cup podiums before suffering a microfracture to her right knee in March at nationals. She took ninth in the super G at Worlds in February and logged top-30 finishes – good for World Cup points – in five speed events last season.Ludlow said the microfracture was the most serious of her nine-year tenure on the national team, requiring surgery – her fourth – and six months of rehabilitation before a return to snow. The layoff hasn’t seemed to slow her too much. She was 26th in Sunday’s super G in Lake Louise and 25th in a giant slalom Nov. 24 in Panorama, B.C.

She’s optimistic about her chances in Aspen, noting that it’s her favorite stop on the World Cup.”It’s been a real big challenge coming back from [the injury],” Ludlow said. “Honestly, if I keep progressing from my results last weekend in Lake Louise, I’ll be happy. Because Aspen is such a great hill for me, I’m really shooting to be in there with the top girls.”The same kind of optimism surrounds fourth-year team member Stacey Cook, also 23, and Resi Stiegler – the alpine A team’s youngest member at 22. Cook made her first Worlds team last season, finishing 16th in the downhill, and had her best World Cup showing in March – a sixth in super G in Tarvisio, Italy. Stiegler will be a podium hopeful in Sunday’s slalom after logging two top-10 finishes in the discipline last month.Richardson said she believes all of her teammates on the young U.S. national team are capable of the kind of results turned in by Vonn and Mancuso. She also said the desire to win on home snow is palpable, especially considering the success the U.S. men have had at Beaver Creek.”I just hope to do my best,” she said. “I just want to finish my run regardless of where I end up and know that I think I skied well. It’s such good energy here. There’s so much snow, people are excited and when you’re wearing your U.S. Ski Team coat around, people notice it. Yesterday, when I was just walking around town looking in stores, people would say ‘Good luck.'”npeterson@aspentimes.com.

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