Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Vonn wins twice, but canít shake Riesch

American Julia Mancuso charges the Cortina super giant slalom course Sunday en route to fourth place in the Audi FIS World Cup event. Courtesy photo by Alain Grosclaude/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

By the U.S. Ski Team, Ski Racing Magazine News Service and idaho Mountain Express

American Lindsey Vonn said it best after last weekend's set of three Audi FIS World Cup speed races at Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.

The 26-year-old three-time defending World Cup women's overall queen from Minnesota won two super giant slaloms and finished third in downhill—but remains 145 points behind her good friend Maria Riesch of Germany in the overall hunt.

"I really wanted to gain some more ground on Maria this weekend than what I did, so I'm just going to have to go that much harder next week in Sestriere," said Vonn.

The win brought Vonn 20 points closer to Riesch in the overall standings. Reisch now leads 1,232 to 1,087 just more than halfway through the 2010-11 season which will be interrupted next month by the 2011 World Championships in Riesch's hometown of Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Vonn's recent string of four consecutive slalom DNFs saw her slip as much as 196 points behind Riesch. Vonn is chasing her fourth overall globe this year as Riesch, 26, fights for her first after finishing as runner-up to Vonn the last two seasons.

Although Vonn leads the downhill, super giant slalom and combined standings and Riesch leads only one discipline—slalom with 420 points—Riesch has amassed 586 points in giant slalom and slalom, compared to Vonn's 157 in GS and SL.

Vonn had a career-best 11 World Cup wins last season and has six so far this winter (3 SG, 2 DH, 1 combined)—but the American ace is looking more and more like a long shot to move into undisputed possession of second place on the all-time list of overall World Cup wins behind Annemarie Moser-Proell's six.

Sharing three overall titles apiece are Vonn, Petra Kronberger of Austria, Vreni Schneider of Switzerland and Janica Kostelic of Croatia.

And Vonn is close to moving past Sweden's Anja Paerson (41 career World Cup wins) into fourth place on the all-time list. Vonn has 39 wins (20 DH, 13 SG, 2 SL, 4 combined). Of Paerson's 41 wins in her 14-year career dating back to 1998, 29 have come in giant slalom and slalom.

The all-time win leader is Moser-Proell of Austria (62 from 1969-80) ahead of Schneider (55) and Austria's Renate Goetschl (46). The only active

World Cup woman who is remotely close to the top all-time skiers is Austria's Marlies Schild, whose 27 wins (25 in SL) put her in 10th place.

All in all, it was a very eventful weekend on the World Cup circuit as the men had their 71st Hahnenkamm weekend at Kitzbuehel, Austria. Swiss racer Didier Cuche and Croatia's Ivica Kostelic stole the show.

Cuche became the oldest man to win on the World Cup by taking Saturday's downhill. Kostelic stretched his overall lead by unexpectedly winning Friday's super giant slalom and adding the combined win Sunday.

And American Bode Miller just missed his first Hahnenkamm downhill win, placing second to Cuche.

Kostelic (930 points) extended his overall lead over Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway (585) with Cuche holding down third place at 573 points. He is the downhill leader with 279 points over Swiss racer Silvan Zurbriggen, 270 and 549 overall. U.S. tech ace and giant slalom leader Ted Ligety is 10th with 422 and Miller 11th, 382.

The women's World Cup now moves to Sestriere, Italy with a downhill set for Saturday, Jan. 29 and a super combined on Sunday, Jan. 30.

Vonn wins twice at Cortina

American Lindsey Vonn won her second World Cup super G in three days Sunday, Jan. 23 at Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, edging Germany's Maria Riesch, her rival in the overall, by five hundredths of a second.

Racers and fans were treated to a third consecutive day of beautiful sunshine in the breathtaking Dolomite Range as today's picturesque start was positioned just above the Schuss Pomedes—a narrow gap between two massive rock walls.

Vonn, third in Saturday's downhill won by Riesch, shook off her recent habit of needing dramatic recoveries to finish speed races and accomplished her goal of putting together a clean run to earn her sixth victory of the season and fourth in the super G.

The Vail, Colo. native's latest heart-stopping save came in the Cortina downhill when she narrowly avoided going into the safety net and tweaked her knee on the way to finishing third. "It was tough to charge today because my knee was really sore," she said. "Mentally, I just had to put it out of my head—every point is so important right now."

It was Vonn's fifth win and 11th World Cup podium in Cortina.

Riesch, who was the 17th racer down the course, finished with a time of one minute, 22.69 seconds and held a 0.83-second lead on the field prior to being dethroned by Vonn, the next racer up, before she could set foot in the leader's box.

Today's result marks Riesch's 11th World Cup podium of the season including four runner-up finishes and one victory in slalom.

Third-place finisher, Swiss Lara Gut, was the winner of a super G two weeks ago in Zauchensee, Austria. Gut is the only woman other than Vonn or Riesch to win a World Cup speed race this season. The pair have combined to take nine of 10 downhill and super G races this season.

Austrian Elisabeth Goergl (7th in Sunday's SG) stands third in the overall rankings with 628 points.

American Julia Mancuso (second in Saturday's downhill) finished 1.15 seconds off the winning pace in fourth Sunday to match her result in Friday's super G and earn her sixth top-five result of the season.

Friday, racing at the site of her first-ever World Cup podium, Vonn tallied her 38th career win, in SG. She had a smooth run down the 1,745-meter Olympia Delle Tofane course. The 20th racer out of the start, Vonn led at every split and crossed the finish line with a time of one minute, 11.66 seconds to beat second-place finisher Anja Paerson of Sweden by 0.43 seconds.

"I've been making a lot of mistakes in the last few races so today I just tried to have a clean and solid run and I'm really happy with it," said Vonn who has become a high-speed recovery expert this season. "This gives me a lot of confidence for the next two races this weekend."

Paerson secured her 93rd Vonn 11career World Cup podium and eighth in Cortina. Paerson told reporters, "My focus is really on the World Championships."

Vonn added, "At this point every downhill and super G race is really important for the overall World Cup. My goal is to try to ski the best I can in every speed race and use every opportunity. Honestly I feel a little pressure because I know I have to ski well in every speed race in order to catch up to Maria. But at the same time, if I ski nervous I'm never going to win anyway. I'm just out there skiing the best I can, trying to attack the course. Usually when I focus on skiing the results follow. That's what I am going to try to keep doing."

In Saturday's Cortina downhill, Riesch returned to the top of the downhill podium on a stunning day in the majestic Italian Dolomites. She was the fastest by almost a full second with a time of one minute, 39.30 seconds on a day that could not have been much better for ski racing.

Americans Mancuso (0.91 seconds back) and downhill standings leader Vonn (one second back) joined Riesch on the podium in second and third, respectively.

It was Mancuso's 22nd career podium and her best World Cup result since finishing second here in a super G in 2008. It was the first time Vonn finished lower than second in a speed race this season. She now has 74 career World Cup podiums, tying her for eighth place on the all-time World Cup list.

Vonn came into Saturday's downhill having won three consecutive races in Cortina (Friday's super G and last season's downhill and super G). Her on-the-edge ways of late caught up with her as she was forced to make yet another mid-course, high-speed recovery. Though the save was impressive and avoided what could have been a horrific crash, the mistake proved costly at the finish line. Vonn was visibly frustrated and disappointed in the finish area.

"It's the first time I was pretty afraid in a downhill and it doesn't feel very good I have to say," said Vonn, who drew gasps from the crowd with her harrowing recovery. "I've never been so scared before so I'm kind of in a funny mood. I'm just really happy I'm not hurt and I didn't crash, but it was a tough day at the office."

Saturday's win marked the six-foot-tall, double Olympic gold medalist's 18th career World Cup win and sixth in the downhill. Riesch has raked in 11 podiums this season including four victories (3 DH, 1 SL).

Swiss racer Cuche takes DH

Didier Cuche is a man among men.

The 36-year-old Swiss won the most celebrated ski race for the fourth time Saturday taking the Kitzbuehel downhill by nearly a second, denying America's Bode Miller the one prize he has yet to claim, that of Hahnenkamm champion.

Adrien Theaux was third earning the first Kitzbuehel downhill podium for a French male in 13 years.

Kitzbuehel's Streif course upheld its reputation as a savage course. It had put Austrian Hans Grugger in hospital and an induced coma from a training crash and six men failed to complete the race, including World Cup standings leader Michael Walchhofer and Canadian Manuel Osborne-Paradis. On a circuit where the start list normally runs in the 70's, just 55 even attempted the challenge.

Cuche not only accepted the task, he attacked the length of the bone rattling Streif for his first win of the season, gaining some redemption for finishing second last week in Wengen's Lauberhorn downhill.

The win matches Cuche with Franz Klammer and Karl Schranz with four DH wins at Kitzbuehel and makes him the oldest racer to win a World Cup race. More importantly to this season, it put him in the lead of the DH standings, moving past Walchhofer and Silvan Zurbriggen.

It was bittersweet for Miller. Despite drawing up easily his best skiing of the season in the one race he needs to flesh out a stunning resume, he was no match for Cuche. No one else was either.

"The skis were like rockets," Cuche told Patrick Lang. "It could easily have gone wrong."

The result mirrored 2008 when Cuche also won and Miller was second. Cuche said he was honored to be on the same list as Klammer and Schranz, but said he would have to do "lots more to be considered their equal."

World Cup leader Ivica Kostelic, discovering his speed aptitude at Kitzbuehel with Friday's super G win, tied for 11th to put more room between he and standings leader Aksel Lund Svindal who finished 17th.

Beyond Miller the U.S. group had Ted Ligety adding speed to his repertoire in 27th place while Travis Ganong posted 28th.

Ivica Kostelic's super G race at Kitzbuehel Friday changed some opinions.

The World Cup overall leader has not been known for his prowess in the faster disciplines, but Friday on a course some might describe as gnarly he claimed his first super G victory in a long career full of slalom (11) and combined (4) wins. He now has six wins this season, five in January.

"The more you win, the more you win," he said cryptically to reporters.

Bode Miller held onto a top-10 placing and Canada's defending super G champ Erik Guay returned from a sore back to place 11th.

The Austrian squad appeared to be reeling from the severe injury sustained by teammate Hans Grugger in downhill training Thursday as three of the top team contenders, Klaus Kroell, Michael Walchhofer and Benjamin Raich all failed to finish. Grugger languished in the University of Innsbruck hospital in an induced coma Friday following emergency surgery Thursday. Doctors had stablized his condition but are unable to predict how he will recover.

On Sunday in the Kitzbuehel slalom, Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Grange derailed the Croatian Express by coming from behind to earn the Hahnenkamm slalom crown. It was his second SL win at Kitzbuehel and his first win since 2009 after missing last season to a right knee injury. Grange fired off the fastest second run time to move from fourth to first.

First-run leader Kostelic could not match the Frenchman out of the blocks and though he closed to within a hundredth of a second at the mid-course timing he finished .28 back in second place.

The U.S. got a boost in the arm from Nolan Kasper, the Europa Cup slalom leader, who started 58th and finished among the top dozen. It was the best U.S. finish in a Kitzbuehel slalom since 2008.

Kostelic got the last laugh, at least for Kitzbuehel this season, by winning the combined by two seconds over Silvan Zurbriggen of Switzerland. Romed Baumann was third in combined to give the host country two podiums for the weekend. The event was a traditional combined using results from Saturday's downhill and Sunday's slalom.

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