Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Vonnís work weekend? How about three crystal globes!

Courtesy photo by Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images. Lindsey Vonn shreds the slalom portion of the super combined to take her 10th career super combined title Friday.

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

Three-time defending Audi FIS World Cup women's overall champion Lindsey Vonn is drawing closer to Germany's Maria Riesch in the 2010-11 standings—and Vonn already has three crystal globes in her pocket for three different disciplines.

It was an unbelievable weekend in the Italian Alps for Vonn as she secured her career 10th, 11th, and 12th World Cup titles. She pulled in her second consecutive super combined title Friday, her fourth downhill crown in a row on Saturday and her third consecutive super G season championship Sunday.

Vonn, 26, captured her first two crystal globes this weekend at Tarvasio, Italy with second-place finishes then ended the trip with her eighth World Cup victory of the season and 41st of her illustrious career Sunday.

She also narrowed Riesch's overall lead to 96 points in the standings.

Vonn (1,580 points) could be in the unusual position of winning three World Cup discipline titles this season but still falling short of Riesch (1,676 points). That's because of Riesch's 610-170 lead over Vonn in the slalom and giant slalom standings.

Six races remain on this season's women's World Cup schedule, two of those the speed races that Vonn has relied on this season as she has struggled in giant slalom and slalom races.

The women's World Cup tour moves to Spindleruv Mlyn, Czech Republic for giant slalom and slalom races March 11-12 before concluding March 14-20 at the World Cup finals.

Great weekend for Vonn in Italy

Lindsey Vonn and her U.S. Ski Team comrades had an amazing day Sunday on the sunny super G track in Tarvisio, Italy. And Vonn has enjoyed an amazing SG season with four wins in the six races to date.

Vonn secured her third World Cup title in three days as she won the penultimate super G of the season with a 0.23-second advantage on teammate Julia Mancuso in second place.

World Cup overall leader Maria Riesch finished third, 0.50 seconds behind Vonn as the latter closed the gap in the overall title race to 96 points with the 41st World Cup win of her very well decorated career.

It is the first time Riesch's lead on Vonn has been in double digits rather than triple digits since Dec. 29, when Riesch jumped 121 points ahead of Vonn. Six races remain on this season's World Cup calendar as Vonn continues to fight from behind for her fourth consecutive overall globe and Riesch seeks her first.

"At this point I actually feel really relaxed. I know I have to perform if I still want to be at all in contention for the overall and that's how I'm approaching it," said Vonn. "I have to go after it and if I make mistakes I make mistakes. But I have to try to do my best to give Maria a run for her money."

Sunday's SG was the fourth time Vonn, Mancuso and Riesch have shared a podium this season.

Fellow American Laurenne Ross, who has made considerable noise in her first full season on the World Cup tour, exploded into the limelight Sunday in fourth place, missing the U.S. podium sweep by just two-tenths of a second.

Wearing the #6 bib, Ross got the U.S. party started early, finishing with the lead after an impressive one-minute, 22.45-second run. She held that lead through the next nine racers, including some of the world's top women, until being bumped by the three-time super G champ Vonn who clocked a near flawless run.

The last time U.S. women finished 1-2-4 was Jan. 14, 2007 in a Zauchensee super combined as Mancuso, Vonn (then Kildow) and Resi Stiegler accomplished the rare feat.

Vonn said, "I'm really happy with the way this whole weekend turned out. I'm especially happy with the super combined title, that was really important for me particularly with my slalom. One of my goals at the beginning of the season was to defend my World Cup titles—so far, so good. A lot can happen in the next two weeks."

With only one super G left on this season's schedule, Vonn's current 171-point lead on Riesch (560-389) is well out of the German's reach. Mancuso could still improve on her season super G ranking, she currently stands third with 315 points.

It was Mancuso's 24th World Cup podium and her best result in a super G in three years. She has tallied four World Cup podiums as well as a World Championships silver medal in this her best season in four years.

She currently stands in fifth place in the overall rankings with 836 points. Mancuso's best overall ranking came in 2007 when she finished third, that was the same year she scored her last World Cup win with a downhill victory here in Tarvisio.

"I wanted to be top three for super G this season and I knew that could happen. Lindsey is skiing really well so I figured if I had a good season and try to win more next year," said Mancuso, who stands fourth in the downhill rankings. "I think if I keep up with the good results it can be a challenge for me to try to be top three in the super G and the downhill and also overall. I'm going to really try to give myself that challenge and pick up as many points as I can."

Sunday's top 10 was filled with well-qualified women as Saturday's downhill winner, Swede Anja Paerson finished 0.72 back in fifth. Downhill and super G world champion, Austrian Elizabeth Goergl was 0.74 seconds of the pace in sixth and Friday's super combined winner, Slovenian Tina Maze was in seventh.

On Saturday, for the second consecutive day, Vonn finished second in a World Cup race while securing the season title in that discipline. On Friday it was the super combined. Saturday it was in the downhill.

With only one downhill left, Vonn's current lead of 143 points (600-457) on Riesch is insurmountable. Vonn finished second on a day when Sweden's Anja Paerson secured her 42nd World Cup victory.

With her sixth career downhill victory, Paerson became the first woman not named Vonn or Riesch to win a World Cup downhill in the previous 15 races. But the win came at a cost as Paerson's tender knee took a beating. In the finish area Paerson's celebration was limited to shaking her head and rubbing her sore legs.

Brand-new downhill and super G world champion, Austrian Elizabeth Goergl earned her fifth World Cup podium of the season, 1.17 seconds back in third place.

Vonn's impressive downhill title streak began in 2008. She has now collected 21 career  World Cup downhill victories, with three of those coming along with fourth additional podium placings this season.

Though it will be an uphill battle, Vonn hasn't  closed the door on hopes of a fourth consecutive overall title and is looking to take advantage of her reduced pressure, underdog position.

"It's definitely a long shot at this point and it's still Maria's title to lose but I'm chugging away and trying to win as many races as I can. I'm skiing with nothing to lose so it makes things easier for me," said Vonn. "I just have to go out there and ski my race and try to win."

On Friday, the crystal globe came down to the third and final World Cup super combined of the season at Tarvisio. And a second-place finish was enough for American Lindsey Vonn to take the 2011 super combined title from previous leader, German Maria Riesch in third today.

Slovenian Tina Maze took today's win, the first combined victory of her career, with a combined time of two minutes, 13.54 seconds, 0.18 seconds ahead of Vonn, who was never happier to finish second as she jumped for joy in the finish area.

Riesch was 0.55 seconds back to finish third on the day as well as in the combined standings. With a second-place finish last week and Friday's win, Maze landed second in the season combined standings.

It was Vonn's second super combined season title, her first came just last season. "It feels awesome, it was a great day," said Vonn. "I knew it was really close with Maria only five points a head of me, I knew I had to ski a great slalom run if I wanted to get the title."

Vonn led the morning downhill leg by 0.42 seconds and came out of the slalom start house with a 0.79-second lead on Maze. Though she couldn't match Maze's intensity on the slalom course, her downhill lead served her well as she claimed her seventh career discipline season title.

Men in Slovenia

There was a lot going on in what is usually a pretty standard race, the World Cup GS at Kranjska Gora.

The winner on Saturday, March 5 just had heart surgery, second place went to a junior and Ted Ligety, the man who has won at the site the last three seasons, placed third by .12 of a second making him the prohibitive favorite to win his third GS crown.

Heightening the drama was the second run DNF of the last man on course, first-run leader Philipp Schoerghofer.

Swiss Carlo Janka got the win, his first of the season after surgery Feb. 23 to correct symptoms from heart arhythmias. Apparently that surgery was pretty successful.

In second place, by .02, was Alexis Pinturault of France. Pinturault won the World Junior GS gold medal Jan. 30 and leads the Europa Cup rankings both overall and in GS with three wins and seven podiums in his last nine EC GS starts.

In third was Ligety. He leads the GS standings 383-306 (by 77 points) over Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway and by 80 points over Cyprien Richard.  Svindal finished 22nd but Richard was fourth making the title hunt a three way race with Ligety clearly in the driver's seat.

Janka won the World Cup overall title last season. This season's overall leader, Croatia's Ivica Kostelic, finished 18th in the GS. He leads the standings with 1307 points, compared to 725 for Switzerland's Didier Cuche and 588 for fifth-place Ligety.

On Sunday, U.S. racer Nolan Kasper had a graduation ceremony.

The 21-year-old American (he turns 22 March 27) won the second run of the World Cup slalom to finish second behind Austria's Mario Matt. Sweden's Axel Baeck actually tied Kasper's two run time.

The American significance of this podium result cannot be over-stated

The last slalom podium from a U.S. male was Bode Miller in 2008. Aside from Miller and Ligety (Miller skipped the Kranjska Gora stop and GS podium finisher Ligety skied out in the second run of slalom) you have to go back to Felix McGrath in 1988 to find a U.S. men's slalom podium.

Kasper's name now joins those of American legends from the early days of the World Cup when slalom podiums were more routine: From '67 to '72 Tyler Palmer, Bob Cochran, Rick Chaffee, Bill Kidd, Spider Sabich and Jimmy Huega all picked up podiums.

And, of course, Phil and Steve Mahre got a full share in the late '70's and early 80's, retiring in 1984.

How impressive was Kasper?

Ask U.S. Head Men's Coach Sasha Rearick: "On the bottom that was some of the most impressive skiing of the season by any athlete on the World Cup. He took some chances, put pressure on the right spots and went really fast.

Significant to the 2011 World Cup Kostelic was disqualified in the second run after missing a gate. He remains the slalom leader 478-442 over Jean-Baptiste Grange who was himself disqualified in the first run on a straddle.

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