Wednesday, March 11, 2009

World Cup finals will crown Lindsey Vonn as repeat winner

Hailey Duke continues progress in slalom

Courtesy photo by Getty Images/AFP-Olivier Morin Lindsey Vonn attacks in the first run of the FIS World Championship women’s giant slalom race Feb. 14 at Val d’Isere, France.

Americans will most likely wake up this morning, March 11, and find that two-time world champion Lindsey Vonn, 24, of Vail, Colo. has become the overall World Cup women's champion for an unprecedented second straight year.

Two-time world champion Vonn held a nearly insurmountable 367-point lead in the 2008-09 Audi FIS World Cup overall standings before the World Cup Finals March 11-15 at Are, Sweden. Today's opening race is downhill, and Vonn leads the DH standings by 111 points.

No American woman has ever won the season-long crown twice, let alone in two consecutive seasons. Only Phil Mahre and Bode Miller of Franconia, N.H. have won two World Cup overall titles with Mahre doing so in 1981, 1982 and 1983.

Vonn, the super G and downhill world champion, has already clinched her second downhill title in as many seasons to match Sun Valley's Picabo Street, who won the discipline in 1995 and 1996. She is top 10 in every World Cup discipline, is just 15 points out of the super G lead and will finish the season second in the super combined standings.

Last season, Vonn became the first woman to win the prestigious overall title since Tamara McKinney in 1983, the only other American woman to win an overall. Vonn also has surpassed McKinney's career World Cup win total and holds the new women's U.S. record with 19.

"I'm really looking forward to Are," said Vonn after Friday's giant slalom in the Bavarian village of Ofterschwang. "In the past it's been a good hill for me. I think downhill is going to be good and I'm going to be fighting for the super G title as well. Hopefully I have a solid downhill performance and have enough points to get the overall title then so it's not weighing too heavily on my mind."

Vonn (1,588 points) finished eighth in Friday's GS gaining significant ground on top overall challenger Maria Riesch of Germany (1,219). Austrian Kathrin Zettel won with a two-run time of 2:36.48 as teammate Elizabeth Georgl was second and Fin Tanja Poutianen third.

With only the World Cup Finals giant slalom remaining, Zettel holds a 41-point advantage in the discipline standings over Poutianen. Olympic champion Julia Mancuso of Olympic Valley, Ca. finished 21st and will compete in downhill and giant slalom at World Cup Finals.

"The snow wasn't all that bad and the course stayed in great shape. It was a pretty tight set, but it was fine. The girls who were fast today are the girls who have been fast all year in giant slalom," said U.S. Women's Alpine Head Coach Jim Tracy.

Leading at the top split, Vonn made an incredible save in the middle section after sliding shortly on her hip, but wasn't able to recover the lost speed.

Hailey Duke makes a move

After sitting in third following the first run, Sandrine Aubert of France won Saturday's slalom to mark the first World Cup win of her career in Germany. Sun Valley native Hailey Duke of Boise led the way for U.S. women, finishing 17th while, following her first-run lead, Vonn straddled a gate.

"It was definitely a tough race. It was one of those ones that fell apart and you had to have all the skills to have a good run," Women's Tech Head Coach Trevor Wagner said. "It wasn't smooth, you had to adjust and be smart with your tactics to be able to manage all the conditions."

Wagner was particularly impressed with Duke, who he believes is making huge strides in her skiing.

"Hailey had a pretty good first run and her second run was good. She made up 10 places, which is awesome," Wagner said. "This is a sign of where she's going to go. To be in your first year on the World Cup and be in the top 30 is pretty sweet."

Vonn, who was in the hunt to solidify her spot as overall World Cup champion with a win on Saturday, was on her way to another slalom victory when tricky course conditions in the second run got the better of her. She is second in the SL standings with 440 points, behind her good friend Riesch (625).

Wagner said, "When you run 30th on the second run in these warmer conditions in the wet snow you get a shelf at the gates and the inside ski just grabs on that. That's how she straddled the gate. When you have that shelf, it's tricky because the inside ski wants to grab. Straddling is part of the game in slalom."

Meanwhile, reigning men's overall king Miller, 31, announced last week he is shutting it down for the season. He finished with 275 points in the downhill standings and is currently standing in 10th place overall with 517 points.

Croatia's Ivica Kostelic and Benjamin Raich of Austria are tied for the World Cup overall lead, each with 837 points, going into the World Cup finals. Right behind is Aksel Lund Svindal with 829 points.

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