Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Shiffrin podiums for first time in giant slalom

Runner-up on the Beaver Creek course

Express Staff Writer

U.S. gate star Mikaela Shiffrin, 18, races to second place in Sunday’s World Cup giant slalom during the Nature Valley Raptor World Cup at Beaver Creek, Co., home of the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. Photo by Cody Downard/Cody Downard Photography

     Thank goodness for world slalom queen and budding giant slalom ace Mikaela Shiffrin, because the “Best in the World” U.S. Women’s speed team looked less than “best” during the Nature Valley Raptor women’s World Cup holiday week at Beaver Creek, Co. that ended Sunday.

     Shiffrin, 18, of Eagle-Vail, Co. came within a whisker of her sixth World Cup victory Sunday as the precocious American gate star earned her first-ever podium in giant slalom by finishing second to Jessica Lindell-Vikarby, 29 of Sweden in the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup event.

     After laying down an inspired first run for the roaring hometown crowd, Shiffrin produced a fluid final run that nearly snatched the win away from first-run leader Lindell-Vikarby. The Swede from Huddinge had led Shiffrin by .44 seconds after the first run, but Shiffrin reduced the margin to .09 seconds in the second run.

     Shiffrin’s previous best GS result was a sixth in Soelden, Austria Oct. 26 to open the 2013-14 Olympic season.

     Sunday’s race was held on the future site of the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships at Beaver Creek Resort.

     There, the “Best in the World” U.S. women's speed team—minus injured star Lindsey Vonn—hosted a top field of international alpine athletes for a true World Ski Championships test thanks to early season snowfall and premium snowmaking temperatures.

     Taking advantage of the ideal weather conditions, Beaver Creek Mountain operations crews successfully prepared the full length of the new Raptor women's downhill for the inaugural Nature Valley Raptor Women's World Cup Week.

     Yet the best the American women could achieve in Friday’s downhill and Saturday’s super giant slalom were a 19th place by Stacey Cook in Friday’s season-opening downhill, and a 23rd by Leanne Smith Saturday.

     Stacey Cook, 29, from Mammoth Mountain, Ca., said, “We should have done better here as a group. I think we are better than this, and I think when we get back on the courses that we are a little more familiar with and we can get into our normal pattern again, we’ll start bringing the results we brought last year.”

     Not being familiar with the Beaver Creek course didn’t bother 22-year-old Lara Gut of Switzerland.

     The 5-3 dynamo from Sorengo, Ticino, Switz. who won Friday’s downhill by .47 seconds and Saturday’s SG by nearly a second. They were the fifth and sixth wins of her career for Gut, who placed a career-best ninth overall (5th DH, 6th GS) on last season’s World Cup tour.

     Current World Cup women’s overall leader Gut, a three-time World Championship silver medalist in her sixth World Cup campaign, made it three wins in four races this season. Her SG win Saturday was her first on the tour, after she took the world SG title last February at Schladming, Aust.

     Gut didn’t finish Sunday’s GS, but she retained her overall lead 300-220 over second-place Shiffin. In third place with 193 points is Maria Hoefl-Riesch, 29, the 2011 World Cup overall queen from Germany who now lives in Kitzbuehel, Aust.

     Yet Gut had to share the weekend spotlight with Shiffrin, the teenager from Vermont’s Burke Mountain Ski Academy in her third season on the tour. Improving each week, Shiffrin leads the way with 120 points in two giant slaloms, comparable to her 134 GS points for 19tn place in the giant slalom standings all last winter.

     Shiffrin said after Sunday’s near-victory in GS, “It’s my first GS podium. I’ve been working on my GS so it’s a big relief to be able to get on the podium and know that I’m actually doing something right. It’s my favorite slope and two amazing courses with awesome conditions. I don’t really think they could have done much better with this hill today, so I just tried to take advantage of that.

     “I followed through with my plan. I really just wanted to go out and ski as well as I could today. This hill is my favorite hill because it feels so good to make good turns and to arc the turn. That was my goal and I think I accomplished it pretty well.

     “It wasn’t really nerves that were getting me down the hill. I wanted to race. I couldn’t wait to get out of the starting gate. That was the coolest feeling for me so I’m going to try and take that into the next races.”

     Next: The men’s World Cup samples the Beaver Creek course for downhill, SG and GS Dec. 6-8 in the annual Audi Birds of Prey race week, which will air live on Universal Sports, NBC and NBCSN. And the women's World Cup tour switches places with a visit to Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada for downhill and SG Dec. 7-8.

     Meanwhile, Olympic gold medalist and 16-time Audi FIS Alpine World Cup title winner Lindsey Vonn, 29, of Vail, Co. told the Associated Press on Sunday that she is delaying more surgery on her right knee for as long as possible so she can ski in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

     She did not compete during the Nature Valley Raptor women’s World Cup race event at Beaver Creek, having sustained injuries as a result of a downhill training fall Nov. 19 at the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center at Copper Mountain. Vonn partially tore one of her reconstructed knee ligaments and feels she needs more surgery at the end of this season.

     Vonn said she’ll travel to Lake Louise this week for downhill training to see if she is able to compete in the Canadian World Cup downhill. She first injured her right knee during a high-speed accident in the FIS World Alpine Ski Championships SG race last Feb. 5 at Schlaming.

     Other World Cup races last weekend:


At Beaver Creek and Lake Louise

     The 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships women’s downhill successfully hosted its first World Cup Friday to open the Nature Valley Raptor World Cup week. Veteran Stacey Cook earned the top spot for the U.S. Ski Team, finishing 19th on a course that has been heralded by the entire Audi FIS Alpine World Cup field.

     On Saturday, Gut made it three victories in the first four Audi FIS Alpine World Cup races to start the Olympic season with the SG win.

     At Lake Louise Saturday, the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup held its men‘s downhill opener amid cloudy skies and challenging flat-light conditions.

     Two-time World Cup overall champion Bode Miller, 36, of Franconia, N.H. posted the top U.S. Ski Team result in 16th, while Italian Dominik Paris carved up the icy course to take the victory. Miller is returning to the racing circuit after a year absence and showing promising results with two top-20 results in a row, including the Soelden World Cup GS.

     In the men’s SG Sunday, Travis Ganong, 25, of Squaw Valley, Ca. powered through light snow to finish 22nd. Miller was 23rd. Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal reeled in the victory—his fifth in SG at Lake Louise and 22nd of his 12-year World Cup career.

     Four-time World Cup giant slalom champion and reigning super G World Champ Ted Ligety, 29, of Park City, Utah was knocked off course in the difficult visibility and did not finish Sunday’s SG.

     Svindal, 30, from Kjeller, Norway, leads the overall standings 200-160 over Austria’s Marcel Hirscher. The 2010 Vancouver Olympics SG gold medalist, Svindal is a five-time world champ who captured the 2007 and 2009 World Cup overall titles. He has won three times at Beaver Creek.

     Ligety stands in third place at 124 points. Five Austrians are in the top nine of the overall standings. Miller is 30th with 35 points.

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