Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ligety rewrites history with third world gold, USA tops medals count

Mikaela Shiffrin, pictured here last week at Schladming, Aust., is the new world women’s slalom champion. Photo by Mitchell Gunn/ESPA

The gold medal success of American technical ski racing stars Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin was remarkable last week at the 2013 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Schladming, Austria.

Over 300,000 spectators jammed the mountainside in the Austrian village of Schladming over the last two weeks to watch Ligety win three golds, teen Mikaela Shiffrin take the slalom gold and veteran Julia Mancuso earn the bronze medal in super giant slalom.

They helped the U.S. Alpine Ski Team wrap up one of its most successful World Championships in history.

The Americans left Schladming with the official medals title with four gold plus a bronze. The medals bring a start advantage for the Americans as the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships head to the U.S. in 2015 at Vail/Beaver Creek, Colo.

It was the first time a non-European nation had led the official medals count. Austria ended up with the most overall medals with eight, including two gold. But it was the most gold medals ever won by the U.S. Ski Team in a World Championship or Olympics.

The USA has twice won six overall medals including St. Moritz in 2003 and Bormio in 2005 (Bode Miller won two gold in each). The overall total of five medals by the USA at this year’s worlds matched the total at the last Schladming World Championships in 1982.

Ligety’s three gold medals marked the first time since 1968 that an athlete has won three or more gold in a World Championship (Jean Claude Killy with four in 1968, Grenoble).

Shiffrin at 17 became the third youngest woman to win a slalom World Championship and the youngest gold medalist since a slightly younger Diann Roffe won gold in giant slalom in 1985 at Bormio/Santa Caterina.

With her fifth career World Championship medal (bronze, super G), Julia Mancuso has now medaled in six World Championships (4) or Olympics (2)—more than any other American.

Team USA with its gold medal success at Schladming will pickup additional starts for Ligety in super G, super combined and giant slalom and for Shiffrin in slalom giving the USA five starts at Vail/Beaver Creek in two years.

Previous American World Championships were held in Vail/Beaver Creek in 1999 and 1989, along with Aspen in 1950, as well as 1960 in Squaw Valley with Olympics doubling as Worlds.


Ligety makes his mark

Defending world champion Ted Ligety, 28, of Park City, Utah rewrote the history books Friday, becoming the first man in 45 years to win three gold medals at a FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.

U.S. Ski team veteran Ligety banked a 1.30-second first run lead to win by .81 over Austria's Marcel Hirscher in the men’s giant slalom event at Schladming, Austria.

He became the first man or woman, ever, to win gold in SG, super combined and giant slalom at a World Championship event. Ligety also became the seventh man to win two GS gold medals in his career—and the sixth to win back-to-back GS golds at worlds.

Legendary ski star Jean Claude Killy of France was the last to accomplish the feat when he won four gold medals at the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble, Fra. Only four men previously have won three or more gold (Toni Sailer, Austria, 4 in 1956, 3 in 1958; Jean Claude Killy, France, 4 in 1968; Stein Eriksen, Norway, 3 in 1954; Emile Allais, France, 3 in 1937)..

Ligety opened the 2013 World Championships Feb. 6 with a win in super giant slalom and then added another gold Monday, Feb. 11 by winning the men’s super combined. With Friday’s win, Ligety matched Bode Miller’s career total of four World Championship golds.

He said afterward, “If you want to call me the King of Schladming, that’s cool with me. This has been a crazy, unbelievable week—definitely far exceeding my expectations. To win three gold medals here is awesome and to join some of the legends of the sport. There was definitely a lot of pressure coming into the GS as the defending champion. With those gold medals it definitely added a lot of extra pressure.

“Marcel (Hirscher) has been really pushing me the last couple years in GS. He’s been a big motivater to continue the level of training and pushing as hard as I do. It’s not easy having such a young guy like that be so, so good at such a young age. I've had to push really hard and he's pushed me to a new level.”

U.S. Head Men’s Coach Sasha Rearick said, “No one has done this in the modern era because of the development of the World Cup. You have tremendous athletes, programs, national teams and company support pushing at a very high level. Over the last 30 years, specialists have developed in multiple events so to be able to win in three events has been impossible.

“When you think of the greats like Lasse Kjus, Kjetil Aamodt and Hermann Maier—and they haven’t done it. It’s amazing, absolutely amazing achievement for Ted.

“I hope it inspires a lot of athletes to continue skiing and I hope it inspires them to do what he’s done to get to this level. It’s tremendously hard work since he was a little kid but especially hard work when he made the development team—day in and day out coming in and training more professionally and harder than anyone. It shows that hard work is fun, hard work is rewarding.”

Sunday, on the final run on the final day of worlds, Marcel Hirscher brought individual gold to the host Austrian nation at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Schladming.

Hirscher won the men's slalom in a close fought battle with Germany's Felix Neureuther and Austria's Mario Matt. No Americans made it to the final run. Over 300,000 spectators attended the World Championships, which now head to the USA and Vail/Beaver Creek in 2013.


Shiffrin wins slalom, 6th in giant slalom

Teen Mikaela Shiffrin of Eagle-Vail, Co. skied an aggressive second run to come from behind to win gold in slalom at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Schladming on Saturday.

Third after the first run, Shiffrin overcame a .18 lead by Sweden's Frida Hansdotter who took bronze. Austria's Michaela Kirchgasser took silver.

Shiffrin said, “I thought, ‘I hope it holds.’ I was thinking so many things. It was one of those times when everything was a blur and that’s when you know it's good.”

Still a month shy of her 18th birthday, Shiffrin had an impressive debut in her first major championship event finishing a career best sixth in giant slalom Thursday at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.

First-run leader Tessa Worley of France was a runaway gold medalist taking the title by 1.12 seconds over Tina Maze of Slovenia with Anna Fenninger of Austria third.

Fifth after the first run, Shiffrin knived the bottom to score her best international GS finish ever. She dropped back mid-course then came charging back with an aggressive line on the steep bottom face to make up over a half second.

World Super G bronze medalist Julia Mancuso, 28, of Squaw Valley, Ca. closed her sixth World Championships with 22nd.

Said Shiffrin, “It felt different than a normal World Cup start because I had really good training and had a lot of confidence going into the race. But in the end, it was just me, my skis and red-and-blue gates. It was loud but it helps me get down because the crowd has so much energy.

“I felt like I skied both runs really well at the bottom and just kind of solid at the top. I could have been faster. I was searching for that place where I can take my training into the race. In training I tend to get better top to bottom. I go out of the start in a race and have to figure out how to get six training runs into one race run. It’s a little bit mind boggling but I love racing.

“I feel a little bit of pressure but it doesn’t distract me. But I don’t let it bother me. It’s just racing and I’ve done it so many times that I can’t possibly be disappointed. It’s the best GS result of my career and I’m really happy about that, but I know I can do better.”

Mancuso said, “It’s exciting to see the success of the team. Everyone is skiing well. Everyone asks why we do so well but I think it’s just because we think of everything like it’s about the skiing. It's not like we have to get a medal on these races—you just go out and do your best and try to win.

“It’s really about wanting to win—look at Ted, he doesn't just want to get a medal, he wants to win. And he’s having awesome runs. Mikaela is just a really solid skier and this hill suits her. It will be interesting to see her slalom after the result today in GS.”

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