World Cup spotlight again on Vonn, Shiffrin as season starts in Soelden
The Associated Press
SOELDEN, Austria — The spotlight will again be on American duo Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin in the 53rd women’s Alpine skiing World Cup season — but for very different reasons.
While Shiffrin starts her quest for a third overall championship at the season-opening giant slalom on Saturday, Vonn is set to kick off her record-chasing campaign with two downhills and a super-G in Lake Louise in late November.
Vonn’s 82 wins from 18 seasons leave her four short of the all-time World Cup record, set by Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark in the 1980s.
The four-time overall champion and three-time Olympic medalist, who will retire at the end of the season, wrote on social media this week that “regardless of the record, I am still proud of who I am and what I have accomplished during my career. I have nothing left to prove to myself or anyone else.”
Reducing her schedule to the speed races, where she has the best chance, Vonn would settle for a repeat of last season, when she won five times.
Shiffrin picked up 12 victories last season, including the first five races of the calendar year, a record.
She has been so dominant in recent years that, barring injuries, anything else than another overall title would be a major upset. It would make her the fourth female skier to win three straight crystal globes, after Vonn (2008-10) and Austrian pair Petra Kronberger (1990-92) and Annemarie Moser-Proell, who captured five in a row between 1971 and 1975.
“I try to focus on day-to-day training, how I’m skiing, and race-to-race,” said Shiffrin, who fancies adding more speed races to her schedule. “It makes it easier to compartmentalize.”
With 32 slalom wins, Shiffrin can pass Austrian great Marlies Raich’s mark of 35, but the American skier usually refrains from thinking about records.
“It was easier at the beginning, my expectations were the only ones that mattered,” she said. “I want to ski fast and be a good skier. I always ski better when I focus on my performance, my actual turns and technique versus the results.”
Many of Shiffrin’s closest competitors over the past two seasons are struggling.
The runner-up two years ago, Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia, hasn’t raced since the World Cup Finals in Aspen in March 2017 after tearing an ACL.
Returning from severe knee injuries usually means a tough battle, as overall champions Anna Veith (2014, 2015) of Austria and Lara Gut (2016) of Switzerland have experienced.
The duo have won races again since making comebacks but have not found the same consistency that won them the sport’s biggest prize.
“It is a work in progress,” said Gut, who married Swiss international soccer player Valon Behrami in the offseason. “It is the first summer where I have done something more than just train and ski.”
Sofia Goggia was close to Shiffrin in the overall standings for a while last season and ended up winning the downhill title. However, the Italian skier didn’t score enough points in other disciplines to pose a real threat, especially in GS where she failed to finish three of seven races.
Goggia is likely to miss the first three months after fracturing her right foot in a training accident last week.
That all leaves Wendy Holdener as Shiffrin’s likely main rival. The Swiss technical specialist made her breakthrough last season, becoming the only racer other than Shiffrin to surpass the 1,000-point mark.
Holdener won one race, a combined event in her homeland, but reached the podium 10 more times, including five second places in races won by Shiffrin.
She ended up 605 points short of the champion’s total of 1,773 points, but her improvement in both slalom and GS has made her a main contender.
“In each race I had something I was not happy about,” Holdener said. “So I know where I lost the time. I hope I can change that this year.”
Shiffrin unbeatable? Not so, according to Holdener.
“If I had already skied my best skiing ever, then it would look very bad for me,” she said.
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American giant slalom stud Ted Ligety won six times at Birds of Prey, be it five World Cups and/or gold in the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, but we have to remember what a struggle it was for him to get there.