Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Vets and rookie shine as World Cup picks up steam

Shiffrin, 16, shows stuff in slalom

U.S. Ski Team photo Mikaela Shiffrin

By U.S. Ski Team and Mountain Express

The first big weekend of the World Cup alpine ski racing racing belonged to grizzled veterans like Switzerland's Didier Cuche, Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal and Austria's Marlies Schild.

But the U.S. Ski Team had bragging rights itself with the performance of a promising 16-year-old rookie.

On Sunday at Aspen, Colo., Mikaela Shiffrin of Eagle-Vail, Colo. notched a top-10 finish in only her second Audi FIS Alpine World Cup slalom. The 16-year-old was the only American to qualify for a second run.

Schild, 30, the 2011 world championship slalom gold medalist and 2011 World Cup slalom queen, won the season's slalom debut by 1.19 seconds.

Meanwhile, at Lake Louise, Canada, the 37-year-old Cuche captured Saturday's season-opening World Cup men's downhill. It was the 18th World Cup victory for the reigning World Cup downhill and super giant slalom king. He added his 63rd career podium with a second place in Sunday's men's super giant slalom.

Norway's Svindal, 28, the 2009 and 2007 World Cup overall men's champion, won the SG over Cuche. Svindal is the reigning Olympic SG men's champion and won the Olympic downhill silver medal at Vancouver.

The women's giant slalom winner at Aspen Saturday was Viktoria Rebensburg, 22, of Tegernsee, Bavaria, Germany. The 2010 Olympic GS gold medalist and 2011 World Cup GS queen collected her first win of the season and moved into the World Cup overall lead.

After six races on the 86-competition schedule of the 2011-12 Audi FIS World Cup, here are the top standings and top Americans:

Men: 1—Didier Cuche (Switz.) 180 points. 2—Aksel Lund Svindal (Nor.) 140. 3 (tie)—Ted Ligety (USA) 100. 8—Bode Miller (USA) 87.

Women: 1—Viktoria Rebensburg (Germ.) 180. 2—Elisabeth Goergl (Aust.) 140. 5—Lindsey Vonn (USA) 122. 8—Julia Mancuso (USA) 86.

Aspen Winternational results

Olympic champion Julia Mancuso (Squaw Valley, CO) broke a seven-year jinx, taking the number three podium spot with two brilliant GS runs at the Nature Valley Aspen Winternational Saturday.

Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO) battled back from a tough first run (21st) to finish 12th.

It was the first U.S. podium in Aspen since Kristina Koznick was third in slalom in Nov. 2004 and the first U.S. women's GS podium since Tamara McKinney's win in 1981. Mancuso's third was her first GS podium since Dec. 2007 at Lienz, Austria. McKinney attended this past weekend's racing at Aspen.

Mancuso said, "I've been wanting to ski really fast in GS and I had a couple of unlucky second runs last year so this is just a great way to start. I know now that with any start position, I can find my way onto the podium."

Her teammate Vonn, winner of the season-opening GS Oct. 22 at Soelden, Austria, said, "With the terrain and the flat light, I just kept making mistakes the second run, but it wasn't quite enough. The just wasn't really myself in the first run, I made some improvements in the second - it's definitely not what I was hoping for here in Aspen."

Defending World Cup GS champ Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany survived a near crash on the first run to comeback for the win.

On Sunday at Aspen, 16-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin (Eagle-Vail, CO) was calm, cool and collected as she notched a top-10 finish in only her second Audi FIS Alpine World Cup slalom in Sunday's Nature Valley Aspen Winternational.

Shiffrin, yet to get her drivers' license, turned a bib 37 start into a stunning eighth-place finish and immediately began thanking young fans in the crowd for coming to see her and the U.S. Ski Team race in Aspen.

The result, an extreme surprise for Shiffrin, extends her string of great performances after she became the youngest U.S. champion in history when she captured the 2011 national slalom title last March in Winter Park. She was the only American to make the second run.

Shiffrin said, "All I can say is this is unreal. I'll for sure be excited for the next five months, but it's also probably going to take five years to even realize that I'm racing World Cup. I've been watching all these athletes studiously to try and figure out how I can get to their level. I know that will never change. This is a great accomplishment, but I still have a long ways to go. I'll try to keep things grounded and keep moving forward."

Austrian Marlies Schild, the defending World Cup slalom champion, won for the second time in Aspen as Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO) opted not to start in favor of resting a sore back. Vonn anticipates starting in the upcoming Lake Louise speed events.

The women's tour now moves to Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada for downhill and super giant slalom Dec. 3-4.

Miller cracks top 10 at Lake Louise

Bode Miller, 34, (Franconia, NH) led a string of five Americans into the points Sunday in the opening super giant slalom of the Audi FIS World Cup in Lake Louise.

Miller finished ninth in a race won by Norway's Aksel Lund-Svindal with Saturday's downhill winner Didier Cuche of Switzerland second. Marco Sullivan (Squaw Valley, CA) was 17th, Tommy Ford (Bend, OR) 22nd, Travis Ganong (Squaw Valley, CA) 28th and Andrew Weibrecht (Lake Placid, NY) 30th.

The men now head to Beaver Creek, Colo. for this week's Audi Birds of Prey World Cup.

On Saturday, Bode Miller led three Americans into the points in the opening Audi FIS World Cup downhill in Lake Louise. Marco Sullivan was 24th and Travis Ganong 27th.

Swiss Didier Cuche began defense of this downhill title with a strong win. Miller, an early racer in bib nine, fell behind early leaders, and then almost inexplicably, started making up time and took the early lead. He eventually got bumped back to finish the same place he started, in ninth.

Erik Fisher (Middleton, ID) was just out of the points in 35th. Wiley Maple (Aspen, CO) was 38th, Andrew Weibrecht 51st and Ryan Cochran-Siegle (Starksboro, VT) crashed out in his first World Cup start.

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