Giant slalom closes out Raptor week | VailDaily.com

Giant slalom closes out Raptor week

Happy giant slalom.

It's Mikaela Shiffrin's much anticipated debut locally on the World Cup. The 18-year-old, who grew up in Eagle-Vail before going to the Burke Academy in Vermont, is a rising comet. She's already won five times on the Word Cup and won the slalom globe, and she's only 18. (Yes, we know we said that already.)

And amid all this excitement, please remember this is not a slalom. That comes in 2015, and we can't wait for that. Shiffrin's sixth-place finish at Soelden, Austria, in the season-opening GS in October has people excited and understandably so.

Did we mention Shiffrin is only 18?

Let us remember that she is only 18. (We meant to repeat that this time.)

Normally, when we talk about the GS in Beaver Creek, we automatically refer to it as Ted Ligety Day. The guy's been a machine at Birds of Prey since 2006, including three wins in his last four starts.

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It is fundamentally unfair to expect Shiffrin to go out and win today. The fans want to see it. The U.S. Women's Ski Team really needs it the way the weekend has gone so far.

Realistic expectations

A top-20 finish is a reasonable expectation. A top 10 would be spectacular, confirming that sixth at Soelden is a sign that Shiffrin's coming along very well in GS. Podium? Pop the champagne — even though young Shiffrin is not legal — but that's a real tall order.

Yes, we're rooting for her. Yes, we wish her all the success in the world. Just tamper down expectations for today. And, yes, we'd love to be wrong.

Things to know for today

The low-down on the giant slalom:

• Format: It's two runs. Best-combined time wins. The top-30 finishers from the first run at 9:45 a.m. advance to the second at 12:45 p.m. In the second run, the order of racers is flipped, meaning that the fastest racer in the first goes last in the second. The phrase, "making the flip" will be used early and often. A reminder that making the flip does not guarantee World Cup points. A racer, even though there are only 30 going in the second run, must finish that run to be in the points.

• No. of racers: 72.

• Past champions: Austria's Alexandra Meissnitzer won both super-G and GS at the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships in Vail, prompting us to go with the headline, "Alex the Great." Italy's Deborah Compagnoni won the event during the World Cup Finals in 1997.

• GS stats: The course starts at just a little more than halfway down the downhill run between Gauntlet and Predator Traverse. The start is at 10,268 feet and drops 1,412.

• Look out for: We've talked about Kestrel and Liberty early and often. Watch everyone's lungs. At the altitude listed above, this is going test everyone's oxygen supply.

• A note on the start order: In downhill and super-G the favorites have bib Nos. 16-23. In GS, the favorites, based on World Cup points, go in single-digits.

• Americans (bib No.): Shiffrin (8), Julia Mancuso (11), Megan McJames (47), Resi Stiegler (60).

• Favorites: Though GS is not her strongest discipline, Switzerland's Lara Gut (2) must still lead the list the way she's been going. Gut also won in Soelden in October. Slovenia's Tina Maze (5) had a monster season in GS last year. She not only won the globe, but she racked up 800 points in the discipline. That's absurd in a good way. Her nearest competition was Austria's Anna Fenninger (6) with 480. Germany's Viktoria Rebensburg (1), France's Tessa Worley (3) and Austria's Kathrin Zettel (5) are all contenders.

• Darkhorses: Shiffrin, Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch (13) and Sweden's Jessica Lindell-Vikarby (7).

• Media picks:

Shauna Farnell, former Vail Daily ski-reporting goddess: Worley.

Chris Freud, Vail Daily: Gut.

Pat Graham, AP Denver: Shiffrin.

Massimo Lopes Pegna, La Gazetta Dello Sport, Milan, Italy: Maze.

Melanie Wong, Vail Daily: Tina Weirather (29).

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 and cfreud@vaildaily.com.