The year in snowsports: Lindsey Vonn says goodbye and Mikaela Shiffrin reigns
The Vail Valley's Tess Johnson also breaks out and an American wins the Birds of Prey giant slalom
So, did anything happen on snow in 2019?
Yes, Lindsey Vonn retired — and some of us really believed it when she didn’t unretire to start in Lake Louise, Alberta, one more time in December.
Mikaela Shiffrin pillaged and plundered, while Tess Johnson bumped and jumped to her first FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships medal and an American returned to the top step of the podium at the Xfinity Birds of Prey for the first time in five years.
Vonn bows out triumphantly
The 2018-19 World Cup season was meant to be Lindsey Vonn’s triumphant victory tour, complete with the five victories that would vault her (82 career wins) past Ingemar Stenmark (86) for all-time World Cup wins.
Who wouldn’t conservatively presume that Vonn would win one or two out the three annual races in Lake Louise in December 2018? With 18 career wins on that hill, there’s a reason they call it Lake Lindsey.
Before those races, ironically, she injured her left knee in training over at Copper. Her left was the “good” one after her right knee pretty much exploded back at the 2013 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Schladming, Austria.
In January, Vonn gave it a go in Cortina, Italy, finishing 15th and ninth in two downhills. While those were good results, not only did they pale in comparison to her previous greatness on that piste — 11 wins, 20 podiums and 31 top 10 finishes there — her body was simply not up to it.
After scratching from races in Garmisch, Germany, Vonn made it official on Feb. 1, that worlds — or more specifically, the super-G and the downhill — in Are, Sweden, would be her finales.
Vonn crashed hard during the super-G, won by some lady named Mikaela Shiffrin. Yet, in the typical fashion of her career, she recovered and went on to take bronze in the downhill, a finale worthy of her career.
Stenmark was there to greet her at the finish, as were family and friends. Plaudits from the ski community flowed, as it was a happy ending.
“I’m happy that I could finish strong. I’m happy there are so many people here,” Vonn said. “I wish my mom and my brother and my sister could be here, but half the family is here so that’s good. I soaked it all in. I waved to the crowd one last time. Ingemar being in the finish area was literally the best thing that’s ever happened in my life.”
The apropos question for Shiffrin’s 2019 is “What didn’t she do?”
Technically, Mikaela did not win a downhill. Feel shame, Mikaela, and go sit in the corner. (For those in social media, we are joking.)
Among the many accomplishments, Shiffrin broke Vreni Schneider’s record (14) for most World Cup wins in a season with 17. Shiffrin won her third overall World Cup title. She won her sixth globe in seven years in the slalom, captured her first giant-slalom season title, and even won a globe in super-G, for crying out loud.
She’s already rolling in the 2019-20 season with slalom wins in Levi, Finland, and Killington, Vermont. Knock wood, she’s on her way to her fourth overall and will likely finish the year third on the all-time World Cup wins list behind Stenmark and Vonn.
Keep your eye on this youngster. Shiffrin, 24, might just be a pretty good skier if she sticks with it.
Tess breaks out
Speaking of youngsters — yes, this is starting to sound like the sports department yelling, “Get off my lawn” — Tess Johnson, 19, has already been to the Olympics and has world champs bronze medal.
She also has her own Wikipedia page. (OK, that’s it … GET OFF MY LAWN! I covered this kid when she was playing high school soccer. She was pretty good at that, too.)
Johnson already has three podiums, including a World Cup win back in 2018, but some podiums are just more equal than others. She is probably a better moguls racer than dual moguls, but she had a night to remember at worlds in on Feb. 9, capturing bronze in the latter in Deer Valley, Utah.
Dual moguls are eventually decided head-to-head in a tournament-style bracket. Johnson came down the hill in the small final, aka the bronze-medal race, and saw the No. 3 flicker next to her name.
“I was overwhelmed with happiness,” Johnson said. “The crowd roared and I was immediately on cloud nine.”
In other snow news in 2019
- At the Burton U.S. Open, Scotty James and Maddie Mastro ruled the pipe, while Red Gerard and Zoi Sadowski Synnott took slopestyle honors.
- U.S. Ski Team racer Alice McKennis, who has Vail Valley ties, returned to World Cup racing this season after missing all of the 2018-19 season coming back from a broken leg. And so far the results have been promising. She finished 10th in a downhill at Lake Louise earlier this month, then 13th in the super-G the following day.
- At Birds of Prey, an American won the giant slalom. His name was Tommy Ford. (Most were expecting that it would have been Ted Ligety, who was fourth after the first run, but fell back to 11th in the end.) Ford, 30, had never won on tour and was the first American to win a World Cup at Beaver Creek since Ligety did so in 2014.
- The Swiss dominated the rest of the racing on the annual World Cup stop with Marco Odermatt winning the super-G and Beat Feuz repeating in the downhill.