World Cup Finals: Top 5 women to watch this week in Aspen
With the season-ending World Cup Finals in Aspen this week, here are five women to watch on Aspen Mountain:
Long the Queen of Slalom, Eagle-Vail’s young superstar is set to have her real coronation in Aspen.
The 22-year-old Shiffrin already is the reigning Olympic slalom champion and has won the previous three world championship gold medals in the discipline, including last month in St. Moritz, Switzerland. An injury that cost her a few months of last season was the only thing that kept her from a fourth consecutive World Cup slalom title, of which she is set to win again this year.
About the only thing missing is the overall World Cup title, and after last year’s overall champion Lara Gut had her season end abruptly because of injury, the road to Shiffrin’s official crowning became pretty straightforward. What she did over the weekend in Squaw Valley — winning both the slalom and giant slalom races — makes her arrival in Aspen even more exciting.
And, in fairy-tale fashion, Shiffrin will receive that crown in Aspen, where last season she won a slalom to become the first American woman to win a World Cup race in Aspen since 1981. Oh, and she won that race by a women’s World Cup record 3.07 seconds.
With her expected overall title, Shiffrin will become only the fifth American (male or female) to win the honor. Two American women have previously won the overall title: Tamara McKinney (1983) and Lindsey Vonn, a four-time overall champion. Bode Miller (twice) and Phil Mahre (three times) are the only American men to win overall.
This certainly will be one of the most interesting World Cup Finals for Vail’s Lindsey Vonn, who won the overall title in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012. An eight-time World Cup downhill champion (including the past two) and five-time super-G champ (most recently in 2015), Vonn will compete for little more than pride in Aspen, a place where she has never won.
Her season got off to a slow start. Vonn was still recovering from a knee injury that cost her the final three weeks of last season and ultimately cost her the overall title (she finished second to Lara Gut). Then, only days away from making her debut this season, she crashed Nov. 11 while training at Copper Mountain.
The crash broke her arm and severely damaged the nerves. When she made her season debut in January, she could barely grip her ski pole and took 13th in a downhill in Austria. Then, not even a week after that, the 32-year-old Vonn shocked everyone by winning a downhill race in Germany, showing the same determination she has shown most of her career.
Unfortunately, Vonn has no chance to catch Ilka Stuhec or Sofia Goggia for the downhill crown. Vonn is sitting in sixth place in the DH standings, but 297 points behind Stuhec heading into the Finals.
Still, it’s Lindsey Vonn, and despite everything, she will be among the favorites to take home a win or two in Aspen.
When Lara Gut’s season ended because of injury, it was Ilka Stuhec, a 26-year-old from Slovenia, who became Mikaela Shiffrin’s main competition for the overall title. Stuhec will likely come up well short in that chase, but she could leave Aspen with as many as three discipline titles.
Before Wednesday’s races start, Stuhec leads the discipline standings in downhill, super-G and combined. Italy’s Sofia Goggia can catch Stuhec in the downhill, but there isn’t much room for error with Stuhec holding a 97-point lead. Stuhec has a 15-point lead over Tina Weirather in the super-G and a 20-point lead over Frederica Brignone in the combined.
Among Stuhec’s highlights this year was winning downhill gold at the World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
While Mikaela Shiffrin and Tessa Worley are taking the drama out of the technical titles, the speed events remain wide open. With Ilka Stuhec the frontrunner for both downhill and super-G, the most doubt remains with the latter.
Tina Weirather, a 27-year-old from Liechtenstein, doesn’t have a win this season, her last victory coming in March 2016 in a super-G in Switzerland. She does have four super-G podiums this season, however, keeping her within striking distance of Stuhec.
Weirather, who won silver in super-G at the World Championships last month, is looking for her first discipline title. She was second in downhill in 2012 and has repeatedly finished top 10 in super-G and downhill since.
Winning the overall title and the slalom title will certainly be enough for Mikaela Shiffrin, but she is oh-so-close to a third globe this season. The only thing standing between Shiffrin and her first giant slalom title is France’s Tessa Worley.
The 27-year-old has been close to a discipline title before, taking second in giant slalom in 2011 and third in 2012. She hasn’t finished top 10, however, since taking fourth in 2013.
As much as Shiffrin has dominated in slalom this season, Worley has done the same in giant slalom, winning three times and taking three second places. Worley also won gold in giant slalom and the team event at World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland. She has four World gold medals to her name.
Now, she’ll be able to add World Cup giant slalom champion to her resume, barring a comeback from Shiffrin, who trails Worley by 80 points after winning the GS at Squaw Valley, California.
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