World convenes for Worlds in St. Moritz
February 1, 2017
The 2017 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships are coming … to St. Moritz, Switzerland.
And we will happily observe them from a distance of 6,000-or-so miles. Sorry, your sports editor is still suffering post-traumatic-stress disorder from the 2015 edition here.
But speaking of 2015, things, as they always do, have changed considerably since the world last convened in our neighborhood.
• Tina Maze, downhill and super-combined winner as well as silver in the super-G, has retired.
• Anna Veith (nee Fenninger), super-G and giant-slalom winner, is just coming back from injury.
• On the men's side, Ted Ligety (GS winner) is hurt, while Jean-Baptiste Grange (slalom) and Patrick Kung (downhill) haven't been on a World Cup podium since Beaver Creek 2015.
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Of the 10 2015 gold-medalists, only Hannes Reichelt, Marcel Hirscher and Mikaela What's-her-name are in Worlds form. And, do remember, that Shiffrin missed part of last season.
Some story lines for the next two weeks:
Yes, we got 150 words into a column about Worlds and didn't mention her. She won bronze in the super-G here in 2015, but she was still coming back from the great blowout of her knee of 2013 Worlds in Schladming, Austria.
As much as she has been "slumping," she's won 13 times since 2015 Worlds. Again, that's a career for most people.
Beaver Creek 2015, St. Mortiz 2017 and next year's Olympics are the three reasons she came back from that knee explosion in 2013. Beaver Creek didn't go as planned, though it was by no means the failure it was perceived at the time.
Vonn hasn't won at Worlds since … gasp … 2009, when she took both downhill and super-G. At this point in her career, it's about this. Vonn has five career wins at St. Moritz. It'll be six before she's done.
Yes, Mikaela has as many Worlds golds as Vonn does. That's some funky trivia. Shiffrin, at the ripe old age of 21, enters St. Moritz as the two-time defending champion at Worlds in slalom.
That's a lot of pressure, but then it isn't. Nothing really can compare to 2015 here when she had to win in what was likely going to be her only Worlds on home snow for her career. (If we go by America/Beaver Creek hosting, it's 1999, 2015 and 2031. The third number might be a stretch, even for Mikaela.)
Yes, ski racing is crazy, but she's the favorite for slalom gold. Can she medal in GS? She's second in the World Cup points in the discipline heading into worlds. Don't bet against it.
The rest of the Americans
The cupboard is pretty bare. Travis Ganong took silver on home snow in 2015. He has a medal in him. I don't see anyone else in red, white and blue on the medal stand with Bode Miller not on the team and Ligety and Nyman hurt. Please prove me wrong, Andrew Weibrecht in super-G.
The Land of Mountain takes this Worlds thing seriously. When no Austrian male finished in the top 10 of the 2015 downhill, the press declared that performance, "a national disaster."
Insert your joke about late-1930s here.
Despite that calamity, the Austrians topped the medal table with five golds, three silvers and a bronze in Beaver Creek. They should do so again.
Hirscher remains the man to beat in GS and slalom and he's also the super-combined defending champ. Reichelt, despite his previous rap of not being able to "win the big one," has done so — downhill victories in Wengen, Switzerland, Kitzbuehel, Austria and Garmisch, Germany, are as big as they come.
Look for him in the mix. Matthias Meyer also appears to be back in form in the speed disciplines as well. Austria should win the medal count again.
Austria may win the medal count, but Switzerland's hopes lie with Lara Gut. These are Gut's Worlds. She's a gold-medal threat in downhill, super-G and GS. Just as Mikaela felt the heat here in 2015, Gut must perform during the next two weeks. These are not the Worlds of 1999 in Colorado — where the Austrians can win, and the host country is happy to have racers in the top 10. The Austrian-Swiss ski rivalry is fierce. Gut must win to salvage home-country pride.
• Slovenia's Ilka Stuhec enters as the best women's downhiller. She's having a breakout year. She could spoil the Vonn-Gut duel.
• Kjetil Jansrud, of Norway, slogged to bronze in the slush of the super-combined here in 2015. He is a threat in the speed races in St. Moritz.
• France's Tessa Worley is the queen of GS. Does "La Marseillaise" get played in Switzerland?
• How about Italy's Peter Fill. The 33-year-old leads the downhill points, but has never won gold at Worlds in seven tries.
• Can Norway's Henrik Kristoffersen, France's Alexis Pintarault and/or Germany's Felix Neureuther unseat Hirscher in the tech events?
We find out the answers to all these questions and more starting on Tuesday.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.
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