The forecast for the U.S. Ski Team in 2015-16
As you work through the football, the turkey and the apple pie — pumpkin is acceptable as an alternative — consider this.
The U.S. Ski Team kicks off the season this weekend. The women are in a little town called Aspen for giant slalom and two slaloms, while the men are up in Lake Louse, Alberta for a downhill and super-G.
So what to expect in 2015-16?
Lindsey Vonn enters the season as healthy as a 31-year-old veteran of the World Cup can be, and certainly with fewer question marks than last season. The right knee, which essentially scrubbed the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons, is A-OK, knock wood, as shown by eight speed wins last year and a bronze in the super-G at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.
Vonn broke her ankle in the offseason during training, which by comparison to the knee, is merely a flesh wound. All indications are that she’s good to go after wisely foregoing the Soelden, Austria, GS in October.
She will be defending her downhill and super-G crowns and it’s hard to bet against her. With no Anna Fenninger and Tina Maze, a bit of the field is cleared. Lara Gut, Viktoria Rebensburg and Tina Weirather are threats, but Vonn showed she was back in full splendor in the speed events.
And the schedule is also friendly to her because after Aspen, it’s off to Lake Louise for two downhills and a super-G, and she absolutely owns that hill with 15 career wins there. (Think about that — 15 wins is a very good career for a racer.)
The bigger question is her pursuit of the overall. Does she get her fifth? (If she does, she would be the oldest female to do so.)
If Vonn can stay upright and in the points in GS, she should make history.
First off, we can no longer say, she’s just 19. Mikaela Shiffrin turned 20 last spring.
Miss Shiffrin is already off to a great start with a second in Soelden. And while, she is getting her first World Cup start in super-G next weekend up at Lake Louise, she still should take it slow in what everyone assumes will be a five-discipline career.
Keeping her slalom — she’s a three-time World Cup champion with three gold medals between Worlds and the Olympics — sharp and boosting her GS is the goal.
Shiffrin has gone from 49th to 19th, to seventh to third in the last four years in GS. The next step is the globe.
Again, any comparison between Vonn and Shiffrin is simply not valid. Vonn’s always been a speedster and Shiffrin is based in tech. The apt comparison is Bode Miller (with a brain).
Speaking of the tech side, it’ll be interesting to see how she does this weekend in Aspen. She hasn’t finished better than fifth in her three slalom starts there.
Ted stands atop the World Cup standings after winning the Soelden GS. He still believes he can win the overall. Go for it, Ted. We still don’t think he has the body for speed racing. There’s also the fact that he doesn’t like Lake Louise. His hatred of the snow up there likely equals Vonn’s love of the same place.
A realistic goal for Ted is to take back the GS title from Marcel Hirscher. The Austrian was a well-deserved overall winner, but he skied his tail off in GS. Hirscher scored 690 of a possible 800 points in the discipline. The odds of Hirscher doing that again are really long, especially because he earned “only” 60 points in the first GS this year by finishing third.
One more thing, Ted needs to watch out for France’s Alexis Pinturault, who was second in GS points last season ahead of Ligety.
Ganong and Nyman
Travis Ganong was the break out racer of the year for the U.S. At the end of the 2013-14 season, he seemed to get into a groove with a streak of top-10 downhill finishes in the World Cup and Olympics, and that carried over into 2014-15.
He was fifth at the Birds of Prey downhill, and earned his first career World Cup win later that month in Santa Caterina, Italy. Throw in a silver medal at Worlds and the 27-year-old had a fantastic season.
Now it’s about punching in podiums consistently.
Steve Nyman is back on the A-Team for the U.S. This has nothing to do with George Peppard and more to do with the fact that Nyman didn’t have to fundraise during the offseason. He skied his way back from injuries and inconsistency to his third downhill win at Val Gardena, Italy.
At 33, the question will be can he stay healthy and keep producing? We’re rooting for him.
• Andrew Weibrecht remains one of the more curious cases of American skiing, having won two Olympic medals in super-G but remaining without a podium on the World Cup.
The good news for the War Horse is that he finished 12th in the super-G points last season, which insures him a top-30 start position in the early going of the season. This is a catch-22 — you need points to start in the top 30, but if you don’t start in the top-30, your chances of earning those points are slimmer since you have to race from the back.
This might actually be the year for Weibrecht to find that elusive World Cup podium.
• Depth after the above-mentioned headliners remains an issue. Bode Miller is working for NBC — such irony that a man who doesn’t like the media is in it — and Julia Mancuso is out after surgery here. Who steps up?
Is it Tim Jitloff in the super-G and GS? Does Marco Sullivan, 35, still have enough gas in the tank? (We should find out shortly as Sullivan has a history of skiing well at Lake Louise.)
How about women’s speed? Stacey Cook, Alice McKennis, Laurenne Ross and Leanne Smith have all shown flashes of potential, but did not have good seasons last year.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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