On a World Cup weekend when America’s greatest alpine ski racer Lindsey Vonn suffered another setback in her drive for the Olympics, Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather methodically moved into the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup women’s overall lead at Val d’Isere, France.
Weirather, 24, the daughter of World Cup stars Harti Weirather of Austria and Hanni Wenzel of Liechtenstein, won the first giant slalom of her six-year World Cup career Sunday and leap-frogged past Lara Gut, 22, of Switzerland in the overall standings for a 595-568 lead over Gut.
It was the third World Cup career win and 13th podium for Weirather, the 2006 Olympian who missed out on a second trip to the Winter Games with a knee injury that wiped out her 2010 and 2011 racing campaigns.
Weirather, whose best World Cup overall season finish was ninth two years ago, is burning it up this season with six podium finishes including a super giant slalom win at St. Moritz, Switz. Dec. 14 and a fourth place in Saturday’s Val d’Isere women’s downhill.
Four-time World Cup overall champion Vonn, 29, of Vail, Co. was one of four Americans who didn’t finish Saturday’s Val d’Isere women’s downhill that was run with fresh snow covering the Oreiller-Killy speed track. The conditions forced the cancelation of Friday’s training run and created a very rattling race surface in sections for Saturday's race.
The challenging course bounced eight racers off course. It was Vonn’s first race since competing two weeks ago and leading all U.S. racers with an 11th place downhill finish at Lake Louise, Alberta. The Olympic downhill champion was rattled in the midsection of the course, pulled up and skied to the finish after pausing on the side of the slope.
She said afterwards, “I didn’t hurt myself more than I’m already hurt. It was a small compression, and it was fully loaded on the right ski. I had no chance of making that gate, unfortunately. I’m going to stick to a similar plan that I was on before. I just need to be more careful of how many races I do. So I’m going to play it safe and race really minimal races. Probably one or two before the Olympics.”
Vonn, a 59-time World Cup winner and America’s most successful alpine ski racer ever, sustained injuries as a result of a downhill training fall Nov. 19 at the USST Speed Center at Copper Mountain. Vonn partially tore one of her reconstructed knee ligaments in that fall.
She first injured her right knee during a high-speed accident in the FIS World Alpine Ski Championships SG race last Feb. 5 at Schladming, Aust.
Swiss Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden won for the first Audi FIS Alpine World Cup victory of her career Saturday. Reigning overall champion Tina Maze of Slovenia was second.
For the U.S., Leanne Smith of North Conway, N.H. tied for 14th. Smith raced with a minor fracture to her left arm, which she suffered in a training crash earlier last week. Stacey Cook of Mammoth Mountain, Ca. was in the podium hunt when the washboard snow sent her sailing into the nets. Cook skied away without injury.
In Sunday’s giant slalom won by Tina Weirather, 18-year-old U.S. rising star Mikaela Shiffrin finished a solid eighth to close the first half of the women's Audi FIS Alpine World Cup giant slalom season. In 12th place after the first run, Shiffrin produced a flawless final run to jump four spots for the sixth giant slalom top-10 of her young career.
Slalom world champion Shiffrin, who scored the first World Cup GS podium of her career Dec. 1 at Beaver Creek, Co., maintained her sixth-place hold on the World Cup overall standings with 274 points and she is sixth in the GS standings with 152 points, just 100 off the lead.
“I’m really excited with where I’m taking my giant slalom right now,” said Shiffrin. “In training I’m skiing faster than in racing, so I have a lot of potential, but the trick is getting the training skiing into the races. That’s not always so easy. There’s something to be said for the girls who can do that.”
The women’s tour returns after the holiday break Dec. 28-29 at Lienz, Austria—site of Shiffrin's first World Cup podium in 2011—with a giant slalom and slalom.
Ligety, Miller continue to lead U.S. men
Ted Ligety, 29, of Park City, Utah and Bode Miller, 36, of Franconia, N.H. continued to lead the American men on the upswing to the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi, Russia in February.
Two-time giant slalom world champion and four-time World Cup title winner Ligety, 29, bounced back from last week’s DNF at the Val d’Isere giant slalom to climb Sunday’s GS podium at Alta Badia, Italy with a third-place finish, just .58 seconds off the winning run.
Two-time World Cup overall king Marcel Hirscher, 24, of Austria posted his second straight GS victory and moved closer to current World Cup overall leader Aksel Lund Svindal, 30, of Norway in the overall ranks. Svindal has 530 points, Hirscher 435 and third-place Ligety 329. American Bode Miller has climbed to sixth place with 230 points.
2010 Olympian and two-time defending World Cup overall king Hirscher posted his 21st World Cup triumph (9th GS) and third this season. The 2013 world slalom gold medalist has 50 podiums in seven seasons on the tour.
Midway through the eight-event Audi FIS Alpine World Cup giant slalom season, Ligety and Hirscher have each won a pair of races, however Hirscher leads the discipline standings 320-260 over Ligety.
American Tim Jitloff of Reno, Nev. added an inspiring highlight to Sunday’s giant slalom with a powerful fifth-place finish from the 31st start position to match his career-best World Cup result.
Miller posted a pair of solid results Friday and Saturday in speed races at Val Gardena, Italy.
In Friday’s super giant slalom, Miller charged through difficult visibility on upper half of the Saslong SG and made an incredibly athletic move at the final gate to lead the U.S. with eighth place.
Uncharacteristically warm temperatures in the Italian valley caused fog to blanket the upper section of the course creating problems for numerous skiers, including Ligety, who didn’t finish the SG.
Svindal, the 2010 Olympic SG gold medalist and four-time world champion, won for the third time since 2009 to further pad his World Cup overall lead. It was his 24th World Cup victory (12 SG) and third this season. He was the 2007 and 2009 World Cup overall king.
On Saturday, five-time Olympic medalist Miller continued to build speed on the Road to Sochi with fifth place in the 46th Saslong Classic downhill at Val Gardena. It was Millers best speed finish of the season as he continues to gain strengh for the Olympic Winter Games after missing all of the 2013 Audi FIS Alpine World Cup season.
After falling behind in the upper gliding portions, Miller found the gas pedal through the turny-rolling lower half to nearly make up a full second of time before running out of space to finish .15 seconds off the podium.
It was a solid downhill day for North America.
Erik Fisher of Middleton finished 13th, Marco Sullivan of Squaw Valley, Ca. 16th and Travis Ganong of Squaw Valley, Ca. 19th behind Canadian racer winner Eric Guay.
The men's tour moves to Bormio, Italy for the annual post-Christmas downhill Dec. 29.