Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Olympic fever builds as World Cup visits Kitzbuehel, Cortina

Podiums for Bode, Ligety at Hahnenkamm weekend

Express Staff Writer

In the absence of the injured Lindsey Vonn, Mammoth Mountain’s Stacey Cook, 29, is helping lead the U.S. women’s speed team along with Squaw Valley’s Julia Mancuso. U.S. Ski Team photo by Sarah Brunson

     The U.S. Ski Team’s trajectory toward the 2014 Winter Olympics took another rise last weekend during a busy four days of Audi FIS World Cup speed races for the women and speed/slalom for the men at Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy and Kitzbuehel, Austria.

     Primary achievements for the U.S. men in the days leading up to the Olympic Team selection Sunday were two podium finishes for 36-year-old Bode Miller in the Hahnenkamm weekend super giant slalom and downhill at Kitzbuehel, and Ligety’s second place in super combined Sunday.

     Four-time World Cup giant slalom king Ligety, 29, of Park City, Utah came close to his 21st career World Cup victory and second of the season in super combined Sunday. Ligety was the 2006 Olympic gold medalist in combined and is the reigning super combined world champion.

     Miller, from Franconia, N.H. was only .05 seconds away from his 34th World Cup career victory in Sunday’s super giant slalom won by Swiss racer Didier Defago. Miller also podiumed with a third place in Saturday’s Hahnenkamm downhill won by an Austrian for the first time in eight years.

     The gigantic Austrian crowd filled every inch of the finish area Sunday night at the super combined finale, cheering on their national sport with flags, horns and raw enthusiasm, according to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) News Bureau. Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger even made an appearance at the race that’s called the most popular World Cup event of the season.

     As for the American women, Stacey Cook placed fifth in two separate downhills at Cortina, while three-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso was right on Cook’s heels with seventh and ninth places in downhill.

     In the World Cup overall standings:

     Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal, 31, maintained an 897-795 edge over two-time defending World Cup overall king Marcel Hirscher, 24, of Austria. France’s Alexis Pinturault, 22, moved up to third place with 669 points while U.S. technical race leader Ligety is fourth with 529 points. Pinturault and Ligety are tied for the combined discipline lead, 180 each.

     Miller has made strides in the overall race with a seventh place standing and 449 points after the busy Kitzbuehel weekend.

     Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch, 29, stayed ahead in the tightly-contested overall women’s race with 1,071 points compared to 943 for second-place Tina Weirather, 24, of Liechtenstein. Austria’s Anna Fenninger, 24, is third with 871 and Switzerland’s Lara Gut, 22, is fourth with 796.

     Mikaela Shiffrin, 18, is sixth with 614 points while Mancuso and Stacey Cook are 20th and 22nd with 227 and 213 points respectively.


Exciting week at Kitzbuehel

     Austrian Hannes Reichelt took home his first Hahnenkamm downhill victory on the Streif Saturday.

     The host nation has been waiting since 2006 to see a local on top of the podium as, the last Austrian to win this race was Michael Walchhofer eight years ago, the International Ski Federation (FIS) reported on its Web site.

     Yet victory at the famed Hahnenkamm downhill continues to elude Bode Miller as the Olympic champion finished third in Kitzbuehel.

     Miller, who won the only training run, skied a tactically tight line for every ounce of speed but made a drastic mistake going into a flat section to drop .34 behind race winner Reichelt, the USSA News Bureau said.

     It was Miller’s career third podium on the legendary track after two previous second places. Teammate Travis Ganong matched his career-best finish in seventh with Aksel Lund Svindal in second place.

     Due to warm temperatures, the traditional course was altered from its traditional finish pitch to go around the Hausberg jump and side hill traverse into the finish of the 74th Hahnenkamm downhill.

     Miller told the USSA, “I skied well in the top, I didn’t do anything crazy but I skied well. I carried really good speed down Alte Schneise. Off Seidlalm jump I got really good air and I knew I was going and then I just got a little high-sided. I was almost in my tuck and the ski came underneath me and got rotated and on a long turn there’s nowhere to go—you’re completely stuck on your tail going out of the course on a dead flat. That mistake is just too big of a mistake, especially right there where you’re on a flat and then a long traverse and then into the Larchenschuss and it just cost me way, way too much time.

     “I knew it when I came across the finish line, that I’d just wasted another opportunity to win this course. It’s not even so much beating the other guys, but skiing the course the way it’s meant to be skied. That obviously is my number one goal and it’s just really tough.

     “I wish being fast in inspection made you fast in the race, but it doesn’t seem to work. Yeah, today I think was my day. I’ve been skiing well and I had good confidence and knew what I had to do. It’s just execution, and in downhill skiing execution is what matters. Winning training runs doesn’t do it for you. You’ve got to execute on race day. You’ve got to execute on race day. It’s too many times that I’ve made these stupid mistakes that aren’t really forced. They are not forced errors. It’s not on a tough part of the course; it’s just a real basic part. So, it’s pretty heartbreaking.”

     Germany’s onrushing Felix Neureuther won Friday’s Hahnenkamm slalom for his second career victory at the Classic venue. It was the first Kitzbuehel night slalom in recent history. Back on Dec. 25,1950, however, the Austrian resort hosted the first race under artificial lights in Central Europe providing a spectacular show for 20,000 fans, the FIS stated.

     Defending Olympic champion Ligety led the U.S. Ski Team Friday, finishing 15th in the slick and snowy World Cup slalom at Kitzbuehel.

     On Sunday, five-time Olympic medalist Miller landed his third World Cup podium of the season Sunday with a second place, .05 seconds behind Didier Defago of Switzerland in the Hahnenkamm super giant slalom. Miller has now been on World Cup giant slalom, downhill and super G podiums prior to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

     Miller has achieved four podiums in speed disciplines in Kitzbuehel but never a victory. His only victories at the Hahnenkamm Rennen came in 2004 and 2008 in the combined.

     Defago’s win was something of a surprise, since he achieved his last SG podium in 2008 and last victory in the Bormio DH in 2011. Weather forced organizers to lower the start, making it a relatively short race and making the differences between racers extremely tight. The best four athletes finished only 0.15 seconds of each other.

     Ganong continued to show promise for Sochi with sixth, the best World Cup result of his career.

     Sunday night, reigning super combined world champion Ligety (Park skied an inspired slalom run to take second place in the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup super combined at Kitzbuehel, the final race of the U.S. Olympic qualification period.

     It was Ligety’s second super combined podium of the season after winning in Wengen. Bode Miller was en route to a fourth discipline podium when he was disqualified for straddling a gate just a few meters from the finish. French racer Alexis Pinturault took the victory while Austrian Marcel Hirscher finished third to the deafening delight of the crowd.


Cook, Mancuso rise at Cortina

     The U.S. Ski Team speed women continued to storm toward the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup podium Saturday as Stacey Cook, 29, of Mammoth Mountain, Ca. finished fifth and Julia Mancuso, 29, of Squaw Valley, Ca. placed seventh in the second of two Cortina downhills.

     With less than two weeks to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, the pair has now finished inside the World Cup top 10 in three straight races with Cook also finishing fifth in Friday's Cortina downhill. Tina Maze of Slovenia, last season's overall and downhill champion, took her first victory of the 2014 season Saturday in the downhill.

     Current World Cup women’s overall leader Maria Hoefl-Riesch, 29, of Germany captured Friday’s Cortina downhill but said she made too many mistakes Saturday and settled for fourth on the 2,660-meter Olympia delle Tofane. The race was incredibly tight with the top 15 skiers separated by less than a second.

     Friday’s downhill victory was Hoefl-Riesch’s 27th career win and third downhill victory of the season, equaling her personal-best from 2010-11 when she also won three World Cup women’s downhills. Cook placed fifth and Mancuso ninth in the Friday downhill.

     On Sunday at Cortina, two-time Olympian Cook led the U.S. Ski Team with 13th in super G. It was the last of four races held over four days at the host resort of the 1956 Winter Olympics.

     Swiss Lara Gut, 22, won for her fifth victory of the season as weather and a tricky set forced 19 athletes off course, the highest DNF rate for women's super G all season. Mancuso was 16th in the swirling wind and tough visibility. World Cup rookie Jackie Wiles of Aurora, Ore. was 29th for her third consecutive day of scoring World Cup points.

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