And that’s a wrap from Vail/Beaver Creek
BEAVER CREEK — Just when you think you know something about this sport, you get slapped upside the head with the last racer — both of them, and we’ll explain that — of the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.
Austria’s Marcel Hirscher, as the last of the top-30 in the second run of men’s slalom, had a 0.88-second lead in the men’s slalom and DNF’d?
The veterans dazzled as they should on the big stage. The young stars of the sport continued their ascendancy. This was as the World Championships should be.
The notebook on Vail/Beaver Creek 2015:
The leading man
Yes, it’s Hirscher of Austria. Certainly, he’s a convenient foil for American fans in the giant slalom, but one must step back and appreciate how good he is. Sure, he — and Ligety — lucked out during the slush-fest that was the men’s combined by finishing 30th and getting the first starting spot for the slalom.
Of course, Mother Nature giveth and taketh. He should have won the slalom but lost all visibility by the last steep of the course.
One medal can be the product of luck. Two golds and a silver in one Championships is greatness. Only Ligety summoning a second run in the GS for the ages and a snowstorm prevented Hirscher from flying away with four gold medals.
As for Jean-Baptiste Grange, bravo. He is the surprise winner of 2015 — there is always one at Worlds — and it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. His competitors were happy for him, a satisfying conclusion.
The leading ladies
It’s a dead heat with Austria’s Anna Fenninger and Slovenia’s Tina Maze. Both had two golds and a silver each. The bigger question is “Are we seeing a passing of the torch?”
Fenninger, 25, has established herself as the latest and greatest in a line of Austrian women alpinists with gold in the super-G, silver in the downhill and gold in GS. Sure she won at Worlds in 2011 in the combined, but it appears that Fenninger, who has seen most of the success in her career come in GS, is branching out into speed.
Maze, 31, has been mum with regard to her future. She’s said she’ll make an announcement about her career at the end of this season. Whatever she says, she is one of the greats of all time, and these Worlds affirmed it — combined and downhill gold and silver in the super-G.
Truth be told, she had no gas left in the tank for her GS and slalom, but was still top 10 in both. She is the best all-around racer — male or female — in the world.
‘Land of Mountains’
Austria remains the undisputed champion of the alpine world. Sure, the Americans had more gold medals (four) than Austria (two) in 2013 in Schladming on Austrian snow. That was a one off, the product of Ted Ligety going off (three golds) as no skier had since Jean-Claude Killy in 1968. (Yes, another racer won gold in Schladming, and we’ll get to her.)
The Austrians came here and showed the world what the score is from Hannes Reichelt in super-G to Hirscher in the in the GS. (Attaboy, Hannes. That’s the way to end the “He can’t win the big race” talk.)
The Americans did well in these Championships with five medals, including two wins, a fine performance. Yet Austria remains the Alpine Republic — five golds, three silvers and one bronze.
To paraphrase, stuff happens. Lindsey Vonn had bad luck in the super-G. With the caveat that this is an outdoor sport, the wind got her in that race. The way she skied after The Gauntlet was perfect. She finished just 15-hundredths away from a gold, getting bronze. That was simply a bad break.
She never got it going in the downhill, and that was disappointing. From the American perspective, she needed to medal in that race. Ergo, Vonn did not have a good Championships.
Perspective is proper here. First, she has done more for American skiing than any person ever with 64 World Cup wins and medals galore from Words and the Olympics.
It was a bad week to have a bad week. She did right by the fans racing in the combined and the GS, even though she hadn’t trained for slalom and GS sufficiently in the aftermath of her injuries.
Remember, despite her monumental return to action with five victories on the circuit this season, she is still recovering from blowing up her right knee twice. That knee was still hurting and will probably be a nagging injury for the rest of her career.
That said, she hammered her second run of the GS earlier this week. That was an eye-opener that Vonn remains very much a factor in the future of ski racing — as did her announcement that she will compete in future GS events.
Never, ever write Lindsey off.
Well, that was rather stunning. How many 19-year-olds do you know who can take a nap between runs of a Championships slalom?
Mikaela Shiffrin handled the heat of being expected to win here with aplomb, albeit with some drama. That was the most dramatic finish of the Worlds. She has maturity beyond her years, but seems well-grounded.
Her “Hi, I’m kind of a dork” remark, describing her entry into the finish stadium without a signature celebration, was one of the best lines of these Worlds. There are many worse flaws in life.
The men’s GS was the best race of the Championships — five racers within 0.24 seconds of the lead and the best going head-to-head.
Ted put down one of those clutch Ted runs that seem to be a habit for him. As much as he does aspire to be an all-around racer, he is “Mr. GS.” Of course, loftier goals are a good thing. He should chase it.
No person could have repeated winning three golds in one Worlds, which he achieved in Schladming. He did wonderfully to three-peat in GS, something that no other racer has done at Worlds in the discipline.
Bravo also to Travis Ganong. His silver medal in downhill will get a little lost in all the other proceedings. However, it may well be a significant landmark in his career. Winning on the World Cup, which he did in December, is one thing. Being on the podium at World Champs is the next step.
Part of me does wonder why we have start lists of more than 100, a number ballooned by competitors from non-skiing nations. I am certainly muttering loudly about this when I am formatting the start lists daily for the paper.
Purists argue that they have no place in such a serious competition. Horse-pucky. Racing for Mexico, Hubertus von Hohenlohe, who at 56 years young, finished 47th on Sunday. OK, he was a mere 58.09 seconds off the pace. (I think he jobbed by the timer.) Huberto, as he is better known, was officially the last racer of Beaver Creek 2015.
May we all do what we love as long as we can. In the end, the austere event known as the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships comes down to the children of the world playing in the snow.
And that’s the way it should be.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.
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