By the U.S. Ski Team and Idaho Mountain Express
Gift-wrapped Christmas Week victories by Lindsey Vonn and Ted Ligety of the U.S. Ski Team on the World Cup in Europe had an extra special topping Sunday, Dec. 19.
That's because both Vonn, 26, and Ligety, 26, vaulted into the overall leads on the World Cup in the early going. Vonn did it one day after the Associated Press honored her as its "2010 Female Athlete of the Year."
Park City's Ligety made it three-for-three in giant slalom on the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup this season on Sunday. He mastered the icy Alta Badia slope in Italy and because the first World Cup male racer in nine years to win three straight GS races.
It was Ligety's eighth World Cup victory, all in giant slalom. With 321 points he surged past Switzerland's Silvan Zurbriggen (315) in the overfall standings. And Ligety (300) now leads the GS standings by 135 points over Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal (165). U.S. racer Bode Miller is in 25th place, with 103 points.
At Val d'Isere, France, three-time defending World Cup overall queen Vonn won Saturday's downhill and Sunday's super combined—her fourth career super-combi victory. Her super giant slalom was dominant in combi, and her slalom run was assured.
With 581 points, Vonn climbed past women's slalom leader Maria Riesch of Germany (578). American Julia Mancuso is currently in sixth place with 294 points. In third place is Elisabeth Goergl of Austria (366).
Vonn now leads the downhill standings 260-2017 over Riesch, and she also leads the SG standings 100-80 over Riesch and the combined standings after one race 100-80 over Elisabeth Goergl.
Vonn a big winner at Val d'Isere
Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn regained the overall lead over German Maria Riesch, winning the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup super combined to sweep the weekend in Val d'Isere.
Sunday marked the second day this year for a USA double victory with Olympic Champion Ted Ligety on top in the Alta Badia, Italy giant slalom for his third straight GS win this season.
"I watched Ted's run before I raced and it definitely motivated me," Vonn said. "He skied amazingly well. He's on an incredible roll right now and I'm really excited for him. It's a great day for the U.S. Ski Team."
Saturday, Vonn received one of the highest honors in global sport. The Associated Press, the world's largest news agency, announced her as its Female Athlete of the Year—the first time a skier has received the honor.
Soft snow and flat light didn't stop Vonn from charging. She crossed the SG finish line in 1:18.66 with a three-tenths cushion over Austria's Nicole Hosp heading into the slalom portion.
In the slalom run, times were tight making an exciting finish for the cheering crowd, where they witnessed four Americans land inside the top 30. Julia Mancuso, 25, of Squaw Valley, Ca. was 15th, followed by World Cup rookie Laurenne Ross (Klamath Falls, OR) in 16th and Leanne Smith (Conway, NH) in 26th.
Vonn posted the fifth fastest slalom run, for a combined time of 2:07.80, building her lead on Hosp and the field to clinch her fourth super combined and 36th career World Cup win. Hosp finished third with Austria's Elisabeth Goergl second.
"It was an awesome weekend. I'm really happy," said Vonn, who was flown to Courchevel by helicopter after the race for a live interview with France's top sports network. "It's always great to have a weekend like this, especially before Christmas. It gives me a lot of confidence going into the New Year."
On Saturday, Vonn captured a stunning win Saturday to retake the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup downhill standings lead as German Maria Riesch finished 24th. Julia Mancuso was eighth with five Americans finishing inside the top 30.
"I'm really psyched to have the red bib back. It means a lot," said Vonn, who won the 2009 downhill World Championship on the nearby Solaise slope in Val d'Isere. "I hope I can keep skiing well and hang onto the bib until the end of the year. Downhill is my favorite event."
Vonn and Mancuso, debuting personally designed Spyder speed suits, kicked out of the start under bluebird skies and with single digit temperatures as the field's covered faces dropped into their tucks for the World Cup downhill.
Starting 20th, Vonn made an incredible save after nearly crashing on the turn just below the second jump. She kept her cool, arriving in the finish arena with a time of 1:51.42. It was .68 ahead of the field. Switzerland's Nadja Kamer finished second with teammate Lara Gut a close third.
"I made a really big mistake on the top part of the course and I honestly thought I would not be able to win the race," explained Vonn. "I had been fast in the middle section of the course on the training runs and I knew if I skied well it might be possible to make up some time. I just tried to stay in my tuck as much as I could, be clean and ski aggressively. Thankfully I was able to make the time up and come away with the win."
Vonn made a similar athletic recovery during the second downhill of the season in Lake Louise. She credited the save, which ultimately landed her second, to her rigorous off season work ethic and agility training.
Saturday's result marked Vonn's 35th World Cup win, the most of any American, as she regained the downhill standings lead. She also owns World Cup downhill wins from 1995 and 1996, placing her in the same category as women's greats Annemarie Moser-Proell of Austria and Marie-Therese Nadig of Switzerland, who also have three World Cup downhill victories it Val d'Isere.
In addition to the 2009 World Championship, Vonn is the reigning super combined champ in Val d'Isere. "I love Val d'Isere, I've always had a good feeling here. It's great to have another victory," she said.
After a few deep breaths in the gate, Mancuso charged the course crossing the line in eighth after Friday's super G was canceled when three feet of snow fell over the French resort. It was her fifth consecutive World Cup top 10.
Mancuso said, "They did a good job pushing out all the snow, but it was pretty soft still. I just a lost a little time in the middle but it was another solid downhill finish. Skiing's going well, I definitely want to go a little faster but it's a good solid finish."
The women raced slalom in Courchevel Tuesday, Dec. 21, and Mancuso produced her best Audi FIS Alpine World Cup slalom result since 2008. She finished 21st with teammate Resi Stiegler (Jackson Hole, WY) in 23rd.
Austrian Marlies Schild captured the victory Tuesday as an extremely tricky first run course set claimed 23 racers including World Cup leader Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO) and Germany's Maria Riesch.
"It was like a survival first run and I definitely got pretty lucky," said Mancuso. "I wanted to ski solid, but I guess I needed to be a little faster. It will be good to have a little break now over Christmas and then get back into it. I'm very fired up with how things are going."
With the exception of the Aspen slalom, Mancuso has surged since landing double silver at the Vancouver Olympics. She has scored top 25 finishes in every World Cup race this season including a super G third two weeks ago in Lake Louise, Alberta.
Thousands packed the finish stadium and lined the slope to see the best skiers as the World Cup returned to Courchevel for the first time since 1979.
The course caused trouble for four-time Olympian Sarah Schleper (Vail, CO) and Hailey Duke (Boise, ID), who missed qualifying for the second run.
With both Vonn and Riesch failing to finish, the overall lead is on pause until the World Cup resumes Dec. 28-29 in Semmering, Austria for a two-race technical series.
Men's speed races at Val Gardena
Two-time Audi FIS Alpine World Cup GS king Ted Ligety mastered the icy Alta Badia slope to capture his third consecutive GS victory Sunday and take the first World Cup overall lead of his career.
The last time a World Cup male won three consecutive GS races was Austrian great Hermann Maier during the 2001 season.
"This is a dream come true," said Ligety, whose previous wins came in Val d'Isere, France and Beaver Creek, CO. "This is the best GS hill on the World Cup circuit and to win today is super special, especially with three in a row."
Frenchman Cyprien Richard finished second, .14 behind Ligety after suffering from an enormously costly mistake midway down. Bode Miller also landed in the GS points for his second time this season with 15th. Sitting in second by .15 to Richard after a clean opening run, Ligety went to full attack in the second run, his skis skipping multiple times over the icy rattling track, yet maintaining his balance into the rowdy Italian finish.
"Ted's skiing right now is impressive in all kinds of conditions," said Head Coach Sasha Rearick. "The people who were competitive with him last week really weren't competitive with him today. But what I'm really stoked about with Ted was that he's never been fast on the bottom in Alta Badia and he had perfect execution down there today."
"This hill is crazy, crazy icy and it's just tough to make it down," said Ligety after the eighth World Cup win of his career. "The second run I was attacking hard and made some small mistakes here and there. I just feel really lucky, Cyprien was I think the best skier today, but he made the mistake and I think I just got the luck. When things get rolling like they have been for me, you get lucky in that sense."
Ligety and the technical team now return home for the Christmas holiday, while the speed men move to Bormio for the annual post Christmas downhill on Dec. 29.
Meanwhile, Bode Miller of Franconia, N.H. and Steven Nyman of Sundance, Utah finished 17-18 in the famed Saslong classic downhill Saturday as a barrage of late starters stormed into the points. Of the top 30 finishers, 10 started from beyond 31, including Nyman. Swiss Sylvan Zubriggen took the win for his first Audi FIS Alpine World Cup victory.
"We had some fresh snow yesterday, so it was a matter of finding the polished part," said Nyman, who was .01 behind Miller. "If you stayed on the polished part, you could make up time. Anyone could attack from the back and win this thing."
One of the most acclaimed downhill victories, the Saslong has been a standard World Cup stop since 1969 with Nyman taking the famed title in 2006. It remains the only time an American has notched the coveted victory.
"This is one of my favorites," said Nyman. "It just has the most air time. There are five jumps where you fly over 20-30 meters and a couple of jumps where you fly 50-60 meters."
Following the race, Miller and other international racers competing in tomorrow's giant slalom at nearby Alta Badia boarded a helicopter for direct transfer to the next valley where they will join World Cup GS leader Ted Ligety of Park City.
Ligety, along with Olympians Tommy Ford (Bend, OR) and Tim Jitloff (Reno, NV) have been training at the men's U.S. Ski Team European Training base in Paganella, Italy to prepare for Alta Badia.
On Friday, steady snow hampered vision in Val Gardena as Olympic champion Bode Miller led Americans with 16th in an Audi FIS Alpine World Cup super G. Austrian Michael Walchhofer returned to the famed Saslong podium for a fourth time with the win, his career third in SG. Marco Sullivan of Squaw Valley, Ca. also landed in the points with 30th.
"This hill is really fast. It skis harder than it looks," Sullivan told reporters in the finish. "A lot of the jumps that we didn't expect to get off the ground on, we're catching air. But the snow is really good and you have to be aggressive. I had a little mistake at the top. I skied pretty aggressively and my equipment is starting to feel a lot better. I'm inching my way up the ranks and I'm actually pleased with today."
Snow caused havoc across Europe Friday grounding nearly 450 flights in Germany and canceling the women's World Cup SG in Val d'Isere, France as three feet fell prior to race time.