Slovenian Tina Maze prepares for World Cup defense
BEAVER CREEK — Slovenian Tina Maze finished 18th at the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, in October, and judging by the reaction, one might have thought that the world had stopped spinning on its axis.
Yes, it was the first race of the season. Yes, 18th puts a skier in the points. But after the season Maze had in 2012-13, the sky possibly could have been falling.
Pretty much everything Maze did last year was perfect. The 30-year-old Slovenian won 11 World Cup races, three World Championship medals (gold in super-G and two silvers in super-combined and GS) and amassed a record 2,414 World Cup points.
“I was surprised about 18th place,” Maze said after Tuesday’s first training run on Beaver Creek’s Raptor course. “I wasn’t ready for the top there. I was counting on top six. Top three would have been good. But I wasn’t so confident. … I feel so much better now. I was disappointed, but like I said, ‘You have to go down the mountain, if you want to go up again.’”
This is Maze’s world now. After a record-setting season, everything is scrutinized. She’s a rock star, literally. She recorded her single, “My Way is my Decision,” before last season’s race at Soelden. It had 400,000 hits on YouTube in the first three days after its release.
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“The cameras are all the time around me,” she said. “It’s a new thing. Usually, they didn’t make so many pictures of me, but they do now. No, I don’t like being a star.”
But that comes with obliterating the rest of the field last season. Maze topped her nearest rival, Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch, by 1,313 points. Maze’s margin of victory was actually more points than Hoefl-Riesch scored last year (1,101).
After the “tough” finish at Soelden, Maze was back on the podium two weeks ago in Levi, Finland, with a bronze in slalom.
A new year
Maze repeated often her new mantra of “You have to go down the mountain if you want to go up again,” during interviews Tuesday. It is a new year.
She said she got a little time off in the spring and then it was back to work, though with a few changes. She has a new coach in Walter Ronconi, who previously has worked with Italy’s Massimiliano Blardone. Then there’s equipment.
She’s changed helmets. It may not seem like much, but it was an adjustment. Maze also has new slalom skis because she needs to be faster in that discipline.
Again, it’s not like she was slow there last year. She was second behind American Mikaela Shiffrin, whom Maze sees as a challenger not only in slalom, but, in the long-term, as a contender for the overall.
There’s also a mental reset for her this season. Replicating a 2,400-plus point season is likely impossible.
“It’s a new situation for me,” Maze said. “That’s why in Soelden, I was like, ‘What? Why is all this pressure on me now?’ And I was like, ‘This is not normal. You cannot live like this. You need to forget about what you did, what last year was like.’”
As an all-around skier, Tuesday was her first day on downhill skis since offseason training in Portillo, Chile, in August. Between training on a new course and clicking into downhill skis for the first time in three months, she wasn’t too happy with her run.
She did finish 14th with a time of 1 minute, 44.83 seconds, 1.41 seconds off the pace of Switzerland’s Lara Gut.
Sochi on the horizon
Maze did note that this season is different in scheduling than in previous years. The women’s tour usually starts with three technical events — Soelden, Levi and Aspen, the last which is usually this weekend — before the ladies get their first go at speed events at Lake Louise, Alberta, next weekend.
“When I come to Lake Louise, that was my first training of downhill after Portillo,” Maze said. “But that downhill is much easier. So it was easier to come in, and here it’s more technical. That’s why I had more troubles today.”
Nonetheless, especially with the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on the horizon, in February, her goals are high for 2013-14. Keep in mind that she won silver medals in both super-G and GS during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“I think the most important goal is (the) Olympic Games,” Maze said. “But, of course, there are many races before that, and I want to ski on the level I was skiing last year. It’s not about points or medals or records. It’s about skiing my best and fast and clean and attacking the course.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 and firstname.lastname@example.org.