America’s best celebrate in Vail
VAIL, Colorado – U.S. Ski Team star Lindsey Vonn holds 2010 Olympic gold and bronze medals, three consecutive World Cup overall and downhill titles, two straight World Cup super G crowns and a 2010 crystal globe for super combined – so what’s left for the 26-year-old athlete to accomplish?
Plenty, Vonn said Saturday just before arriving at the U.S. Ski Team welcome party in Lionshead’s Vail Square.
She said she’s been training hard this summer and fall, and hopes to improve in giant slalom and slalom – two events she admits she’s always struggled with a bit.
The 49-member 2011 U.S. Ski Team was officially announced at Saturday’s Vail event, in front of a crowd of cheering fans. The event was also broadcast live at universalsports.com.
The U.S. Ski Team has been training in Vail all week, thanks to a multi-million-dollar snowmaking system that both Vail Resorts and Ski and Snowboard Club Vail helped build last year.
Before Vail installed the new system, the U.S. Ski Team members would typically train at Copper Mountain or Loveland Ski Area when in Colorado for the early season.
Vail native, Olympian and U.S. Ski Team member Sarah Schleper said it’s such an amazing feeling to be able to train at home. She said she hasn’t been able to train at home since she was an early teen racing with Ski and Snowboard Club Vail.
“This early season opportunity to train here is incredible,” Schleper said.
Vail Mountain Chief Operating Officer Chris Jarnot watched Saturday’s event from the sidelines with a huge grin on his face – the snowmaking system at Golden Peak is already proving to be a wise investment.
“To have this kind of energy in town around ski racing on November 6, it’s just incredible,” Jarnot said.
The energy was fueled by children and aspiring ski racers like Riley Kilgore, 12, of Edwards. Kilgore attends the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy and is a member of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, so the event was heaven for him.
“I wanted to see the whole U.S. Ski Team,” Riley said. “(Skiing) is what I do. They’re my idols.”
Riley said he’s been training alongside the team members all week and it’s been “really cool.”
Ted Ligety, of Park City, Utah, told the crowd he was “blown away” by how many people were there to support the team. He told everyone the team would be back in early December for the Birds of Prey World Cup races in Beaver Creek and hopes to see the same enthusiasm for the team there.
Ligety, Vonn, Bode Miller, Julia Mancuso and Andrew Weibrecht were announced as the U.S. Alpine Ski Team’s headliners for 2011.
The 49-member Team also features World Cup winners Schleper, Steven Nyman and Marco Sullivan, for a total of 22 Olympians.
“I’m excited about the group we’ve put together,” said third-year men’s Head Coach Sasha Rearick. “There is an incredible diversity of experience with guys like Bode, Ted, Steven and Marco, then we have younger guys who are showing they have speed and are ready to take the next step.”
Women’s Head Coach Alex Hoedlmoser said the team has the opportunity to do some great things this season, partly because of the dynamic group of skiers and partly because of a highly professional coaching staff, Hoedlmoser said.
“There aren’t any excuses,” said Hoedlmoser, who enters his 14th season with the women’s team. “Everyone did what they needed to do in the preparation period and we’re all really motivated. I’m expecting quite a bit. It’s time for some of these athletes to step up and make that breakthrough.”
Vail hometown girls Vonn and Schleper are ready to take on that challenge.
Schleper, 31, said she knows how fast she can ski, so she’s just going to focus on the technical aspects of her runs.
“I just want to race fast every time – focus on every gate, every turn,” Schleper said.
For Vonn, her focus has remained sharp, even through all of the media attention and distractions she had to deal with in the last year.
“I don’t think it will be tough to find motivation,” Vonn said. “There are always things that challenge me and keep me hungry for more.”
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