Friday, March 21, 2008

Five globes for U.S. skiers in World Cup

Ligety?s GS finale puts him with Bode, Vonn

Express Staff Writer

U.S. Ski Team racer Ted Ligety celebrates his giant slalom crystal globe for winning the season GS title Friday at Bormio, Italy. Photo by Agency Zoom/Getty Images.

Bode Miller, overall World Cup men's and super combined king.

Lindsey Vonn, overall World Cup women's and downhill champion.

Ted Ligety, World Cup giant slalom champion for 2007-08.

The Audi FIS Alpine World Cup certainly had different flags flying this year when the World Cup Finals concluded last week at Bormio, Italy.

They were the red, white and blue of the United States.

For the first time in history, three Americans claimed five of the 12 crystal globes emblematic of season-long supremacy on the World Cup.

"We're turning the world upside down in alpine ski racing," said U.S. Alpine Director Jesse Hunt.

He added, "To have two Americans win the overall, it's a special deal. And it's by a number of different athletes. What it says is that we're here to stay and dominate alpine ski racing."

"It's a historic day," said U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association President and CEO Bill Marolt. "We've never had this kind of result in the history of our program."

The success is a little top-heavy, however. Besides Team America racer Miller, Vonn, Ligety and Julia Mancuso, the U.S. didn't have another racer in the top 25 of the overall in the men's and women's races.

Indeed, the U.S. ranked fourth in the Nations Cup standings behind perennial winner Austria (7,003 points), Switzerland (4,064) and Italy (3,721).

The U.S. had 3,202, about 1,050 points more than its fifth-place team finish of the 2006-07 season. In 2006, the U.S. finished second with 3,179 points behind Austria (7,276) and ahead of Italy (3,017).

Still, the U.S. led the Nation titles count this season with five, way ahead of Germany, Italy and Austria, each country with two titles. It was a remarkable achievement.

Ligety wins GS title in final race

Park City native Ligety, 23, needed all of his skills to win the giant slalom crystal globe Friday. Going into the Bormio finals Ligety was seeking his first crystal globe. He had 385 points to 358 for Austria's veteran Benjamin Raich.

Ligety had to hold off the veteran Raich and an upstart newcomer, Italian Manfred Moelgg, for the title.

The 5-11, 180-pound 2006 Olympian skied to seventh on his first run and watched Moelgg, skiing before him in the second run, lose time on the bottom. Ligety held pace through the first two intermediate time checks, then destroyed the bottom of the Stelvio course for a huge lead.

Raich needed to beat Ligety by two places for the title, but lost it on the bottom to finish second. Team America's Miller, the first run leader, skied out on the bottom.

"The first run I skied okay, but not perfect," said Ligety. "It was more of a tactical race than me fully going after it. And then Raich took me down by almost three tenths and I knew I had to hammer down the second run.

"I was actually relieved that I had to throw it all on the line in the second run," he said. "Coming down when I crossed the finish line seven tenths ahead, I was stoked but I was also super nervous because I knew I had to wait a couple guys before he came down."

"Ted took spectacular risk to win this race and the globe," said Head Men's Coach Phil McNichol. "The best GS skier of the season won the globe. It was truly one of the more spectacular accomplishments I've ever seen."

Warm, spring conditions made the risk even higher for Ligety and the other challengers.

"Everyone needed to go full gas to go for the win and the Cup," said McNichol. "Conditions were such that you could easily end up on the wrong side of the outcome. He actually risked a lot in the toughest part on the bottom."

"It was all about the win today for Ligety," said Alpine Director Jesse Hunt. "I can't even explain how exciting that race was the way the GS title lined out. It was an amazing race."

"Going into the race today I was a little nervous having only a 27-point lead on Raich," said Ligety. "It was not very comfortable at all, being as strong of an athlete as he is."

What made the day tense for the U.S. Ski Team was just that—Raich is absolutely his toughest when it's all on the line. And he's a seasoned veteran taking on a newcomer to the World Cup title race in Ligety.

"The title's huge. It's sweet to have it, especially doing GS," said Ligety. "GS, in my mind, is the event that is a gauge for everything else. If you're good at GS, you can translate those skills. Bode's done that, Raich's done that and other guys have done that.

"To win the last two races is pretty crazy," Ligety added. "I thought I lost it half way through the year, and to come back and have a couple clutch races is pretty surreal.

"It definitely beats out my Olympic gold (in combined) for sure."

Ligety's globe was the second U.S. title in four years after Miller won it in 2004 and was second in 2005 by a mere three points behind Austrian Raich.

Vonn has a great Finals

Two-time Olympian Vonn, 23, the all-time American record holder for downhill victories on the World Cup circuit, saved some of her best efforts of the 2007-08 World Cup season for the Bormio finals.

After Wednesday's downhill was canceled, Vonn still maintained a 157-point lead over Germany's Maria Riesch and was 178 better than reigning overall queen Nicole Hosp of Austria. On Thursday, Vonn saved her best super giant slalom race in over a year for the World Cup Finals and nearly clinched the title.

Vonn shocked the field, coming down 15th and taking the lead. World Cup SG leader Riesch couldn't match Vonn and eventually finished sixth on a rugged and soft course. Vonn ended up in second.

The finish eliminated defending champion Hosp and lifted Vonn 197 points ahead of Riesch, with just two events remaining. The mathematics were just a formality. Both Hosp and Riesch congratulated Vonn after Thursday's super giant slalom race.

Vonn said, "Nikki came up to me in the winner's circle to congratulate me on a great season. She was really, really nice. She was a very gracious champion today and that was cool. Maria also congratulated me on the overall and I did the same for her on the super G title."

Needing only a single top-15 finish in the remaining two events, Vonn clinched the overall title Friday with her best slalom finish of the season. She rallied from a first-run finish of 25th to win the second slalom run and finish 11th. She was seventh in Saturday's giant slalom to finish with 1,403 points, 220 ahead of Hosp and 257 ahead of Riesch.

World Cup downhill queen Vonn made a point of singling out Sun Valley's Picabo Street as her inspiration. Street won her first of two consecutive World Cup DH titles in the same Bormio village in 1995.

Vonn said, "Picabo Street was my idol and when she was racing, she was the Bode Miller of her time. Picabo just dominated downhill and brought attention to ski racing."

In the final totals, Vonn joined 31-time World Cup race winner Bode Miller, 30, of New Hampshire as the first American pair to sweep the World Cup overall titles since Tamara McKinney and Phil Mahre pulled off the feat in 1983.

The 6-2, 210-pound Miller has amassed points in every discipline and won his second World Cup overall title in four years by 111 points over last year's overall runner-up and 2006 World Cup king Benjamin Raich of Austria. Miller finished with 1,409 points and Raich had 1,298.

It was only the ninth time since the World Cup was launched in 1966-67 that two athletes from the same country have won the World Cup overall crystal globes in alpine.

Here's the list:

2008—Vonn and Miller. 2002—Austria, Stephan Eberharter and Michaela Dorfmeister. 2000—Hermann Maier and Renate Goetschl. 1988—Switzerland, Pirmin Zurbriggen and Michaela Figini. 1987—Switzerland, Pirmin Zurbriggen and Maria Walliser.

1984—Switzerland, Pirmin Zurbriggen and Erika Hess. 1983—United States, Phil Mahre and Tamara McKinney. 1980—Liechtenstein, Andreas Wenzel and Hanni Wenzel. 1969—Austria, Karl Schranz and Gertrud Gabl.

Nationals next at Sugarloaf

Next, the Nature Valley U.S. Alpine Championships return to the East for the second time in three years with championship races March 22-26 at Maine's Sugarloaf/USA ski and snowboard resort.

Developing skiers will have the chance to measure themselves against U.S. Ski Team athletes this week. The nationals come on the heels of the 2008 Nor-Am Finals March 12-16 at Whiteface Mountain near Lake Placid, N.Y.

The schedule:

Downhill training today, March 19 and Thursday, March 20; FIS downhill Friday, March 21; men's and women's national downhill Saturday, March 22; men's and women's super giant slalom March 23; men's and women's slalom Monday, March 24; men's giant slalom on Tuesday, March 25; and women's giant slalom on Wednesday, March 26.

The U.S. combined championship is determined by downhill and slalom results at the Sugarloaf finals.

Here are final men's and women's 2007-08 Audi World Cup leaders and top Yanks:

Men's overall: 1—Bode Miller (Team America) 1409. 2—Benjamin Raich (Aust.) 1298. 3—Didier Cuche (Switz.) 1263. 5—Ted Ligety (US) 898. 28—Marco Sullivan (US) 322. 49—Steven Nyman (US) 183. 54—Jimmy Cochran (US) 156. 70—Scott Macartney (US) 101. 93—Andrew Weibrecht (US) 44. 99—TJ Lanning (US) 39. 107—Erik Schlopy (US) 30. 120—Cody Marshall (US) 20.

Men's downhill: 1—Didier Cuche 584. 2—Bode Miller 579. 3—Michael Walchhofer (Aust.) 407. 4—Marco Sullivan 278. 19—Steven Nyman 150. 26—Scott Macartney 79. 39—Andrew Weibrecht 26. 51—TJ Lanning 8.

Men's slalom: 1—Manfred Moelgg (Italy) 531. 1—Jean-Baptiste Grange (Fra.) 512. 3—Reinfried Herbst (Aust.) 450. 9—Ted Ligety 274. 25—Jimmy Cochran 116. 29—Bode Miller 68. 50—Cody Marshall 20.

Men's giant slalom: 1—Ted Ligety 485. 2—Benjamin Raich 438. 3—Manfred Moelgg 376. 13—Bode Miller 141. 36—Jimmy Cochran 40.

Men's super giant slalom: 1—Hannes Reichelt (Aust.) 341. 2—Didier Cuche 340. 3—Benjamin Raich 286. 8—Bode Miller 211. 30—Marco Sullivan 44. 32—Steven Nyman 33. 34—Scott Macartney 22. 40—Ted Ligety 8. 48—TJ Lanning 5.

Men's combined: 1—Bode Miller 410. 2—Ivica Kostelic (Cro.) 256. 7—Ted Ligety 131.

Women's overall: 1—Lindsey Vonn (US) 1403. 2—Nicole Hosp (Aust.) 1183. 3—Maria Riesch (Germ.) 1146. 7—Julia Mancuso (US) 938. 40—Resi Stiegler (US) 156. 48—Stacey Cook (US) 122. 79—Libby Ludlow (US) 45. 80—Chelsea Marshall (US) 44. 88—Leanne Smith (US) 32. 107—Megan McJames (US) 14. 114—Jessica Kelley (US) 9.

Women's downhill: 1—Lindsey Vonn 755. 2—Renate Goetschl (Aust.) 448. 3—Britt Janyk (Can.) 390. 7—Julia Mancuso 282. 34—Chelsea Marshall 38. 39—Stacey Cook 26. 45 (tie)—Libby Ludlow and Leanne Smith 8. 48—Resi Stiegler 7.

Women's slalom: 1—Marlies Schild (Aust.) 640. 2—Nicole Hosp 515. 3—Veronika Zuzulova (Svk.) 501. 18—Resi Stiegler 111. 28—Julia Mancuso 63. 32—Lindsey Vonn 46.

Women's giant slalom: 1—Denise Karbon (Italy) 592. 2—Elisabeth Goergl (Aust.) 479. 3—Manuela Moelgg (Italy) 359. 5—Julia Mancuso 253. 13—Lindsey Vonn 140. 26—Resi Stiegler 38. 32—Libby Ludlow 21. 36—Megan McJames 14. 44—Jessica Kelley 9. 54—Stacey Cook 3.

Women's super giant slalom: 1—Maria Riesch 374. 2—Elisabeth Goergl 326. 3—Fabrienne Suter (Switz.) 305. 6—Lindsey Vonn 262. 8—Julia Mancuso 238. 21—Stacey Cook 65. 36 (tie)—Libby Ludlow and Leanne Smith 16.

Women's combined: 1—Maria Riesch 260. 2—Lindsey Vonn 200. 6—Julia Mancuso102. 23—Stacey Cook 28. 35—Leanne Smith 8. 37—Chelsea Marshall 6.

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