Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ligety, Nyman chalk up GS, downhill wins in Italy

Vonn continues her early struggles

Here’s something new:

The U.S. Alpine Ski Team boasted two different winners last weekend on the Audi FIS World Cup ski tour in Europe—and they were the men, not the speedy American women.

Park City’s Ted Ligety, 28, won Sunday’s men’s giant slalom at Alta Badia, Italy, one day after 30-year-old Steven Nyman of Sundance, Utah captured the men’s downhill at Val Gardena, Italy.

Elsewhere last weekend, four-time Audi FIS World Cup queen Lindsey Vonn, 28, continued to struggle and failed to add to her 57 World Cup wins and four victories this season.

Downhill points leader Vonn DNFd Friday’s downhill at Val d’Isere, Fra. and failed to finish Sunday’s giant slalom at Courcehevel, Fra. The tour’s super giant slalom leader this season, Vonn had a bad break Saturday when a snowstorm canceled the SG at Val d’Isere—a race she was favored to capture.

On a positive note for the U.S. women, Leanne Smith of North Conway, N.H. posted a career-first Audi FIS Alpine World Cup podium, placing second in Friday’s Val d’Isere downhill.

Slovenia’s Tina Maze, 29, continues to be this season’s dominant women’s racer, just as Vonn was last year at this same point of the season.

Maze posted her 16th World Cup career win Sunday and now stands at four-for-four in giant slalom wins this season.

Last year’s World Cup overall runner-up to Vonn, Maze improved her World Cup women’s overall total to 799 points ahead of second-place Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany (468). In the two races at Val d’Isere Maze stretched her lead from 234 to 331 points over Hoefl-Riesch.

With no points for the two races Vonn (414) dropped from third place to fourth place behind Kathrin Zettel of Austria (440). Julia Mancuso remained in fifth place with 327 points.

In the women’s GS standings Maze leads runner-up Zettel 400-280.

Meanwhile, the U.S. women have five in the top 20 of the overall standings starting with Vonn and Mancuso, and including 11th-place Stacey Cook, 15th-place Mikaela Shiffrin and 17th-place Leanne Smith.

In updated men’s overall standings after 12 races, Ligety remained in second place with 508 points behind leader Aksel Lund Svindal, 29, of Norway (614). Ligety leads GS standings 360-320 over Austria’s Marcel Hirscher, who stands third in the overall standings with 460 points.

The World Cup men visited Madonna di Campiglio, Italy Tuesday for a pre-holiday slalom. The women are in Sweden for giant slalom and slalom Wednesday and Thursday in Are.

Here’s a weekend recap from the French and Italian slopes:


Ligety is the clear GS leader

A dominating first run from Ligety set him up for a repeat win in Sunday’s giant slalom in Alta Badia by 2.04 seconds over Hirscher.

It was Ligety's 14th career GS victory, tying him for the No. 4 all-time spot with Austrians Benni Raich and Hermann Maier. Alberto Tomba of Italy is next with 15. The incomparable Swede Ingemar Stenmark holds the seemingly untouchable record of 46.

The 2.04-second win gave the U.S. Ski Team back-to-back triumphs on the weekend after Steven Nyman won the Val Gardena downhill Saturday.

Ligety had posted a 2.40 second lead in the first run prompting speculation on the possibility of matching the record margin of 4.06 held by Stenmark. Ligety became the first skier since 1979 to post two two-second win margins—at Alta Badia and in Soelden, Austria Oct. 28.

Ligety said about the victory, “It’s tough to go out in the second run when you're winning by 2.40. You don’t want to lose all that speed and not win but you also don’t want to go so relaxed you make big mistakes as well. So I was going hard.

“Maybe in the back of my mind the Stenmark record was something I was thinking about a little bit. But at the same time I was just trying to make it to the bottom. I definitely made some big mistakes and decided to change the tactics a little bit just so I didn’t totally mess it up.

“It’s a tough ride. This hill is always technical, icy day, really bumpy on that second run. A couple times I had my elbows on the snow. It wasn’t easy but I was able to stay on my feet to the finish line.”

Nyman’s downhill win was unexpected.

The Utah downhiller put a mark on his comeback returning to the site of his 2006 World Cup win to do it again. He came out of the 37th start position to steal a victory on the foggy, snowy Saslong after hours of delays. It was his second career win and fourth podium.

It was Nyman's second win on the challenging Saslong, having won there in 2006. Nyman's last podium came in 2007 at Beaver Creek.

Nyman said, “I’m just happy to feel good again. My body's feeling good. I had the flu, but battled that off. I had rib issues the first few races because I put it into the fence in Copper. The Achilles last year, the knees years before that and the back—this is the best gift I could have.”

On Friday at Val Gardena, 24-year-old Travis Ganong of Squaw Valley, Ca. led a back-of-the-pack charge by the U.S. Ski Team in the Val Gardena super G, starting 58th and finishing 24th to lead five U.S. Ski Team athletes into the points.


Another podium for women’s speed team

Leanne Smith parlayed an early start number into a career-first Audi FIS Alpine World Cup podium. She finished second in Friday’s Val d’Isere downhill behind Swiss winner Lara Gut.

Smith, who started third, led four Americans into the top 10 on a shortened course after high winds forced a move of the start. Lindsey Vonn crashed hard into the B-netting, but skied away with no major injuries.

The Best in the World women’s speed team has now placed four different athletes on the podium this season.

Smith said, “This is something that you dream about—that you put your heart and soul into it. Every day you try to do your best. Today was my day. I skied as hard as I could. I can't express how awesome this feels.

“The U.S. Ski Team is amazing. In every downhill, there is a new girl on the podium. We put in so much effort during summertime in the gym. It’s amazing to be part of a team like this—helping each other and hoping each other does well. My teammates know they can be on the podium too. We have a great coaching staff right now and a great set of technicians.”

Women’s head coach Alex Hoedelmoser said, “It has been the goal of the team to put everyone on the podium this year. We've seen in the last few years that they are top 10 skiers and the next step is the podium. So far in speed we've had four different people on the podium so we're on track with that goal.”

About Vonn’s crash, the coach said, “It’s just a mistake that every skier makes at some point with her inside ski. There’s a little bit of fall away in that turn and with her type of skiing where she's pushing it to the limit it was just a touch too much there with the inside ski.”

On Sunday at Courchevel, Julia Mancuso, 28, of Squaw Valley, Ca. and Mikaela Shiffrin, 17, of Eagle-Vail, Co. combined for top ten finishes in an Audi FIS Alpine World Cup giant slalom.

Mancuso was sixth and Shiffrin ninth as Tina Maze of Slovenia continued her dominance, winning her fourth straight GS. The finish matched Shiffrin's career best ninth set last month at the Aspen Winternational.


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