Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Super Bowl of skiing is back at Kitzbuehel

Time for menís Hahnenkamm downhill, women are in Cortina

On the podium Sunday after the Audi FIS World Cup womenís downhill race at Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, Austria are, from left, shared first-place finishers Anja Paerson of Sweden and Dominique Gisin of Switzerland, and third-place Lindsey Vonn. Reigning World Cup womenís overall queen Vonn, from Minnesota, regained this yearís World Cup lead with her podium finish in the second downhill of the 2008-09 racing season. Photo by

They call it the Super Bowl of skiing when the Audi FIS World Cup men's circuit rolls into Kitzbuehel, Austria the third week of January each year. It's the FIS World Cup's most lucrative weekend.

It's been happening at the Austrian resort since 1931 including two wins by Austrians with Sun Valley ski school connections—Sigi Engl in 1935 and Friedl Pfeifer in 1936.

The 69th Hahnenkamm features super giant slalom Friday, Jan. 23, the fabled Hahnenkamm downhill Saturday, Jan. 24 and the slalom on Sunday. If you're a betting man, go with the Austrians.

Only two Americans (Buddy Werner in 1959 and Daron Rahlves in 2003) have ever won the Hahnenkamm downhill. In 62 runnings on the Streif, there have been 34 Austrian winners led by four-time winner Franz Klammer (1975-77 and 1984).

In the last 13 years there have been nine Austrian winners—eight different Hahnenkamm kings from the host country because only Stephan Eberharter has taken two wins in that stretch, the last in 2004.

Unusually because of the race's long and storied history, weather forced cancellation of the Hahnenkamm DH in both 2005 and 2007. Last year's winner was Didier Cuche of Switzerland, with New Hampshire's Bode Miller tying for second.

But Miller, 31, the American renegade from Franconia who is the reigning World Cup men's king, is winless in 19 races this season including his season-best second place in Saturday's 2.8-mile Lauberhorn DH at Wengen, Switz.

Marco Sullivan, sixth in last year's Hahnenkamm, was sixth in the Lauberhorn. It was Miller's 16th World Cup downhill podium, fourth at Wengen.

Miller had won the Lauberhorn the past two years, but he's been hampered this season by a left ankle injury suffered Dec. 5 at Beaver Creek, Colo. when he clipped a gate and DNFd. So Miller is stuck on 31 World Cup career wins including six victories last winter.

And Bode is lodged in ninth place in the current World Cup standings with 385 points, way behind leader Benjamin Raich of Austria (638).

But Miller—second, fourth and second in the three European DHs—is nevertheless second in the DH standings with 225 points behind 2006 Hahnenkamm winner Michael Walchhofer of Austria (230).

The next best American in the overall standings is Ted Ligety, 12th place in 346 points. Ligety is now second in the giant slalom standings.

Ligety was the top American in 12th place in Sunday's Wengen slalom won by Austria's Manfred Pranger—his third career win and first since 2005.

After Kitzbuehel, the World Cup men will set their sights on the 2009 FIS World Alpine Ski Championships Feb. 2-15 at Val d'Isere and Savoie, France.

Vonn reclaims World Cup lead

Reigning World Cup queen Lindsey Vonn, 24, regained this season's overall lead last weekend two solid finishes at Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, Austria.

On Saturday Vonn won the season's second super combined (downhill and slalom) event over Austria's Kathrin Zettel. It was her 16th career triumph and third this season on the FIS Audi World Cup.

In the downhill, Vonn flew about 10 meters farther than expected off the Hot Air jump and nearly crashed, but recovered to finish fourth before the slalom. She skied smart in the SL for the third-fastest time.

Vonn, last winter's World Cup downhill queen by a hefty 307 points, said it was good to be back in the speed events. She said, "It's good to be back in speed. It's been a very long technical block and I was feeling at home in the downhill."

On Sunday, America's most successful World Cup downhiller in history captured her second podium in as many days with a third-place downhill finish in the Zauchensee downhill. And Vonn took over the season World Cup lead.

Vonn has 776 points, 11 more than her good friend Maria Riesch of Germany and 74 ahead of third-place Anja Paerson of Sweden. Vonn leads in the DH standings 160-126 over Switzerland's Dominique Gisin, and is second in slalom behind Riesch by a 500-340 count.

The women move to Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy this weekend where Vonn hopes to capitalize in speed events at the site of her first World Cup podium in 2004. Super giant slalom kicks off the weekend Thursday, Jan. 22, then there will be two downhills and giant slalom.

Schlopy retires after 14 years

Following 14 years with the U.S. Ski Team, world championship medalist Erik Schlopy of Park City is retiring, U.S. Ski Team Alpine Director Jesse Hunt has announced.

Schlopy, who skied his final World Cup race in Val d'Isere, France in December, grew up skiing in Buffalo, N.Y. and Stowe, Vt. before ascending to Burke Mountain Academy and the U.S. Ski Team.

In his time with the team, Schlopy's accomplishments included a miraculous winning second run by over a second in the 2003 St. Moritz world championship giant slalom where he moved from 23rd to the bronze medal.

A three-time Olympian and seven-time U.S. champion, Schlopy is now looking forward to spending time with his family.

"Now, it's all about being with my wife and two children," he said. "They've been incredible in supporting me and now it's time for me to be there 100% for them. It's an easy transition to make and one I've been looking forward to." 

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