Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Rising star Shiffrin earns World Cup slalom globe

U.S. Ski Team photo by Jeff Shiffrin. 2013 Audi FIS Alpine World Cup giant slalom champion Ted Ligety and slalom champion Mikaela Shiffrin show their prizes at Lenzerheide, Switz.

What a week it was for Colorado’s Mikaela Shiffrin at the World Cup Finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.

She turned 18 on the first day of the Finals. She won the World Cup slalom globe with a spectacular final run to beat the best female skier in the world, Slovenia’s Tina Maze.

And she was named the World Cup’s “Rising Star” for the 2012-13 season. Shiffrin appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman on CBS on Tuesday night and visits the TODAY Show on NBC today, Wednesday morning.

That’s all because last Saturday, on a tricky course at Lenzerheide, world champion Shiffrin from Eagle-Vail, Co. came from behind to win her fourth slalom race of the season, sealing the first Audi FIS Alpine World Cup slalom title of her young career.

Shiffrin, who celebrated her 18th birthday March 13th, became the first U.S. slalom World Cup champion since Tamara McKinney in 1983-84. She also became the first non-European to win four World Cup slalom races in a season.

She made history as the fourth youngest woman to win a globe and the sixth youngest woman to win any World Cup title. Shiffrin was also the third non-European woman to ever win the slalom crystal globe after McKinney and then Betsy Clifford in 1970-71.

The thrilling race came to a crescendo as Shiffrin erased a 1.17-second first run deficit with the fastest final run time on the steep bottom section to win over Bernadette Schild of Austria and dominant overall queen Maze.

Maze had led the slalom standings by seven points, 595-588 over Shiffrin, going into the winner-take-all race. When it was over, Shiffrin stood on the top step 688-655 over Maze.

Shiffrin said, “After the first run I went directly to our athlete tent and just tried to sit quietly and figure out what I needed to do to make it better.

“That’s something that I’ve always done is just analyze what I could do better and make it better. It’s hard to do that between runs in a race, but my mom helped, my coaches helped, my dad helped, everybody. They all just said the same thing, ‘You have to let it go. You cannot hold back. There is nothing to lose.’ So I tried to do that.”

Just 24 hours before, Shiffrin had been honored in Lenzerheide as the Longines Rising Star, signifying the top young female racer of 2013. Frenchman Alexis Pinturault, 21, captured the men's Rising Star honor for this season.

The award, presented by the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup timing partner, signifies the top young skiers of the season (woman under 21, male under 23). Also this season, Shiffrin won the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Athlete of the Month award for both January and February. She was voted World Cup Rookie of the Year by her peers following the 2012 season.

About the Rising Star ceremony, Shiffrin said, “One of my goals from the very start of my ski racing career was to be the youngest to win World Cups and make a mark as a young athlete. This has been such a special season already and I feel so fortunate to be in a position where I'm competing against someone like Tina, who has won in all disciplines this year.”

Hopefully, Shiffrin will inspire young American slalom racers. Only slalom queen Shiffrin and 31st-place Resi Stiegler (44 points) had points in the World Cup slalom standings.

( In women’s overall standings Maze finished with 2,414 points, Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch was second with 1,101, third-place Anna Fenninger of Austria had 1,029 and fourth-place Julia Mancuso wound up with 867. Shiffrin finished in fifth place with 822 points and injured Lindsey Vonn settled for eighth place with 740—giving the U.S three in the top 10.

On Sunday, 29-year-old Mancuso of Squaw Valley, Ca. skied into eighth place during the World Cup giant slalom final, finalizing her fourth place overall finish in the Audi FIS World Cup standings for the second year in a row. Maze won the giant slalom race finale to cap an amazing winter.


Ted Ligety also sets records

During a memorable World Cup Finals week for the Americans, World Champion Ted Ligety, 28, of Park City, Utah punctuated the best season of his career with his sixth giant slalom win of the season at the World Cup Finals on Saturday.

Ligety joined Sweden’s legendary Ingemar Stenmark as the only other man to win six or more World Cup giant slalom races in a single season. He has stood on all eight giant slalom podiums this season, a feat not accomplished in the last 31 years.

With his historic victory, Ligety eclipsed 1,000 World Cup points for the first time in his career and guaranteed a third place finish in the overall standings. But the distinctions and records came mainly in giant slalom.

For instance:

- He has won six of eight giant slalom races and stood on eight of eight giant slalom podiums this season, which hasn’t been done since Stenmark in 1978-79 and American Phil Mahre in 1981-82.

- Ligety became the fifth man to record eight or more giant slalom podiums in one World Cup season, after Stenmark (twice), Mahre, Michael von Grünigen and Hermann Maier.

- He also became the first man to podium the first eight giant slalom races of a World Cup season since von Grünigen did it in the first eight races of 1995-96.

- And of course Ligety had already locked in his fourth Audi FIS Alpine World Cup giant slalom season championship last week after winning in Kransjka Gora, Slovenia.

- On top of that, just last Thursday, Ligety was awarded “Run of the Year” for his 2.4-second dusting of the first run in Alta Badia, Italy. His fellow athletes elected him for the award.

Ligety, triple gold medalist at this year’s world championships, said, “It’s so ridiculous; it has been such an amazing year. I never would have expected it and in a way it’s kind of a bummer as I will never be able to do that again.

“A really cool season and to finish it up with a victory… I couldn’t be more pleased.

“For me, my World Championships is the highlight of my year because those two weeks were the best performance in skiing I’ve had in my career. Anytime you’re mentioned in the same sentence as Stenmark is very surreal for any ski racer because he’s at another level that I don’t think is ever achievable. To be at least mentioned in the same breath as him is a really cool feeling—something I never would have guessed would be possible.

On Sunday, Ligety wrapped up the best season of his career with a third overall finish in the Audi FIS World Cup standings. He finished with 1,022 points, beating out his previous best of 898 in 2008.

( Austria’s Marcel Hirscher topped the overall World Cup standings with 1,535 points to 1,226 for Norway’s Svindal. Finishing in fourth-place was Sunday’s slalom winner Felix Neureuther of Germany (948).

Here are this year’s discipline champions:

- Men—Downhill and super giant slalom: Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway. Giant slalom: Ted Ligety. Slalom: Marcel Hirscher of Austria. Combined: (tie) Ivica Kostelic of Croatia and Alexis Pinturault of France.

- Women—Downhill: Lindsey Vonn. Super giant slalom: Tina Maze. Giant slalom: Maze. Slalom: Mikaela Shiffrin. Combined: Tina Maze.

Wrapping up the season is the Nature Valley U.S. Alpine Championships at Squaw Valley, Ca. March 20-24. Men’s giant slalom is Wednesday, March 20, followed by women’s GS Thursday and men’s and women’s super giant slalom Friday, March 22. The men’s slalom finale is Saturday and the women’s slalom is Sunday. National competition in men’s and women’s downhill took place Dec. 7, 2012 at Copper Mountain, Co.


While sidelined, Vonn takes downhill globe

The 2012-13 Audi FIS Alpine World Cup Finals speed events turned out to be weather-plagued bust for everyone but sidelined American Lindsey Vonn and the American women’s team last Wednesday and Thursday at Lenzerheide.

Fog forced International Ski Federation officials to cancel the final men’s and women’s downhills on Wednesday, and high winds and low visibility canceled the super giant slalom finals for both the men and women Thursday.

Canceled races at World Cup Finals are not rescheduled.

That meant Vonn, 28, of Vail, Colo., sidelined by a knee injury, preserved her slim one-point lead over Slovenia’s Tina Maze and thus won a record 17th Audi FIS Alpine World Cup globe—and a record sixth straight downhill title.

Vonn won three of seven World Cup downhills this season and missed two due to injury following her super G crash at the World Championships. She won the downhill globe 340-339 over Maze. In third place was Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch with 272 points. U.S. racer Stacey Cook was fourth with 244.

With her 17th World Cup globe, Vonn broke the women’s record of 16 she previously shared with Annemarie Moser-Proell. Only Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark has more with 19.

Vonn’s win while sidelined had a karma-like feel to it. Two years ago, Vonn was battling for the overall World Cup title with her friend Hoefl-Riesch at Lenzerheide when both the super giant slalom and women’s giant slalom were canceled due to fog, soft snow and other weather problems.

Hoefl-Riesch ended up winning her first and only World Cup title by a mere three points, 1,728 to 1,725 over Vonn.

Three other American women finished in this year’s downhill top 12—ninth-place Julia Mancuso with 202 points, 10th-place Alice McKennis with 198 and 12th-place Leanne Smith with 180.

Wednesday’s outcome cemented the U.S. Ski Team’s win of the women’s downhill standings by 457 points over the Swiss thanks to nine U.S. podiums from five different women. The U.S. prevailed 1,330 to 873.

The women’s downhill domination included five different Americans on nine downhill podiums this season. Vonn had two wins in Lake Louise and one in Cortina, McKennis had one win in St. Anton, Cook had two seconds in Lake Louise, Smith had a second in Val d’Isere and a third in Cortina and Ross had a second in Garmisch.

Vonn said, “It is always an honor to win a title, even if I wish I had done it by competing alongside my teammates over the past month. I hope they will bring home many more titles this season.  This only fuels me to work even harder to get back out on the mountain as soon as I can.”

U.S. Ski Team women’s coach Chip White said, “We are very fortunate to be a part of a great team right now. We have great athletes. We have a great coaching staff, great physical therapists and great servicemen and so it’s very much a team effort.”

Wednesday’s men’s downhill cancelation meant that Marco Sullivan, 32, of Squaw Valley, Ca. ended up finishing 14th in the World Cup downhill standings. It was his best season since 2008 and the top finish for U.S. men.

Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal captured the men’s downhill title, his second of the season. Svindal finished with 439 points to 381 for Klaus Kroell of Austria. Sullivan had 134 points and 24-year-old Travis Ganong, seventh-fastest in Tuesday’s training, ended with 114 points to tie for 18th place.

Svindal also captured the super G title prior to World Cup Finals with 480 points. U.S. technical ace Ted Ligety, 28, of Park City, Utah placed seventh in SG with 159 points.

Said Sullivan, “It’s a bummer that I couldn’t close out the season in Lenzerheide. I had a small knee injury after the World Cup in Norway and it is still a little bit too tender to race World Cup Finals. It was cool to have so much support this season from great people who continued to believe in me. I was back on the World Cup podium and now pumped to head back to Squaw for the U.S. Championships.”

Julia Mancuso, 29, of Squaw Valley, Ca. finished second in the women’s super G standings after officials canceled the women’s Audi FIS World Cup Final super G race Thursday due to high winds and low visibility.

As a result, Mancuso ended the season just a mere 55 points behind Maze, who locked in the overall title last week. Maze edged out Mancuso 420-365. Vonn ended up in fourth place.

Also in super G, Vonn (Vail, CO) ended up in fourth, Leanne Smith (North Conway, NH) 12th, Laurenne Ross (Bend, OR) 13th and Stacey Cook (Mammoth Lakes, CA) 34th.

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