Vonn, Ligety leading World Cup standings
December 21, 2010
Sometimes, even the best in the business need a little inspiration before a big race.
Prior to her competition last weekend, three-time World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn tuned in to a men’s race, hoping to draw motivation from watching Ted Ligety.
Ligety attacked the hill and captured the giant slalom in Alta Badia, Italy. Instantly inspired, Vonn followed suit, winning the super-combined in Val d’Isere, France.
It’s been that kind of season for the U.S. skiers.
After a stellar showing at the Vancouver Olympics last winter, hauling in a team-record eight medals, the Americans are still riding the momentum, with Ligety and Vonn currently leading the overall World Cup standings.
The U.S. team’s performance has become the chatter on the slopes.
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“I think there’s a lot of people that are very impressed with what we’re doing and there’s a lot of people talking about the strength of our team and the dominance right now that we have,” Vonn said. “It’s so motivating and inspiring and makes you want to keep skiing fast.”
The fact Vonn is skiing this well hardly comes as a surprise. She’s the gold standard in the sport and has picked up right where she left off in Vancouver when she won the downhill and took bronze in the super G – on a badly bruised right shin, no less.
Ligety’s rise to the top of the standings does come as a surprise. He’s known more as a technical skier but has diligently worked on improving his speed. His extra attention to the downhill appears to be spilling over as he’s flying through even the tightest of giant slalom courses.
The 26-year-old from Park City, Utah, won his third straight World Cup giant slalom race last weekend.
Can he retain his overall lead all season?
“It’s a tall task,” said Ligety, who won gold in the combined at the 2006 Turin Games.
Vonn and Ligety are far from the only Americans making an early impression on the slopes this season.
Julia Mancuso, winner of two silver medals in Vancouver, has been skiing solid and is sixth in the overall standings. Even more, there’s been a bevy of up-and-coming women’s skiers consistently placing in the top 30. Alice McKennis, 21, recently took 11th during a downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta.
“They’re all on a great track right now, and they’re all showing a lot of potential,” said Vonn, who lives and trains in Vail, Colo. “We try to work as a team and feed off of each other and learn from each other. That’s why we’re able to have the success we’re having right now.”
On the men’s side, Bode Miller has started off slowly, with just one top-10 finish so far this season. This after winning gold, silver and bronze in Vancouver to run his career total to five Winter Games medals.
However, there’s an influx of youth waiting in the wings, skiers such as Travis Ganong, the 22-year-old out of Squaw Valley, Calif., who recently finished 20th at a super G in Lake Louise.
It’s been quite a showing for the Americans this season in the traditionally European-dominated sport.
As for garnering more respect, Ligety said that was attained years ago through skiers such as Miller and Daron Rahlves.
“We used to be able to train with the Austrians, but they don’t let us do that anymore because they know we can beat them,” Ligety said. “I guess that’s respect in a way.
“Over the last few years, we’ve definitely gained more respect in the ski racing world.”
For both Vonn and Ligety, the early season success can be directly attributed to a strong fitness program.
Vonn took the opportunity over the summer to revamp her entire routine, overhauling her training and her diet.
She incorporated track workouts into her regimen to enrich her explosion in the slalom and giant slalom. She figured the only way to maintain an advantage over best friend and top rival Maria Riesch of Germany was to get better at the events Vonn’s struggled with most – the technical ones.
She currently leads Riesch by just three points in the overall standings after both crashed out of the slalom course Tuesday during a race in Courchevel, France.
Vonn also changed her diet, basically eliminating breads, rices, dairy and pastas – all the things she typically craves.
So far, her training routine is paying off. Vonn credits her increased strength for helping her stave off what looked to be certain wipeouts in two races this season to not only finish but wind up on the podium.
In Lake Louise, she momentarily went down on her left hip before springing back up off the snow and regaining her tuck position to keep charging down the mountain and finish second.
She nearly went down again in a downhill race over the weekend, before regaining her balance and winning the race.
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes this year in my races and I’ve been able to make really fast recoveries because of the training I’ve done this summer,” Vonn said.
Ligety’s source of motivation in the offseason was simple – missing out on the medals in Vancouver. That didn’t sit well with the skier known as “Teddy Ball Game” for his cool under pressure.
“That’s a big motivator,” said Ligety, who captured the overall GS title last winter for the second time in three seasons. “You’re training in the gym and going in there five days a week – you don’t always want to be in there.
“But it’s definitely good motivation to think about that and know that this little extra work is going to help you in those situations.”
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