The report card for Lindsey and Mikaela | VailDaily.com
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The report card for Lindsey and Mikaela

Lindsey Vonn had a superb comeback season with two World Cup titles and eight wins and should be be even better with a normal offseason.
AP file photo | AP

Yes, there is still technically one week left in the season for the US. Ski Team with the national championships in Sugarloaf, Maine, later this week, but those races are really for the up-and-comers.

Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin and others will race — technically Mikaela is the defending giant slalom national champ — but the vets race to lower the FIS points of the youngsters. (It’s like a strength-of-schedule rating for skiing.)

So, how’d the U.S. Women’s Ski Team do in 2014-15? A recap.

Vonn

In retrospect, we emphasized the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships at Beaver Creek too much. We wanted to see Vonn come home and lay it down, and it didn’t happen.

Lindsey had an outstanding year. She started the year with a questionable knee and ended up winning World Cup titles in downhill and super-G, got eight race victories and finished third in the overall, while pretty much just racing two disciplines.

The thing to remember is that, even though she ended up winning her second start of the season in Lake Louise, Alberta, her knee still has issues. She now has a normal offseason of rest and rehab after two offseasons that were decidedly not normal. With the exception of few athletes, the second year after a major injury (or two in this case) is better both mentally and physically.

Do note also that Vonn took fifth in the World Cup GS on Sunday at the World Cup Finals. Again, she hasn’t trained much GS. The focus has been on speed and getting back into skiing mode after what was essentially a two-year layoff.

Imagine Lindsey, with a normal offseason, getting to work some GS — she finished 29th in the world without much work. She just might contend for the overall next year. Austria’s Anna Fenninger, just competing in downhill, super-G and GS, won the overall over Slovenia’s Tina Maze. It’s not out of the question. (And, if and when Maze clarifies her status — the rumor mill has her considering retirement — the route to an overall crown may be more possible.)

And, oh, by the way, Vonn is sitting on 67 World Cup victories. Ingemar Stenmark’s 86 wins, the all-time record, is not out of the realm of possibility.

Shiffrin

Mikaela had an excellent year in many ways. The World Cup three-peat is terrific, as are the five more World Cup wins.

More so is her ability to handle the pressure of the spotlight. Everyone and their brother expected her to win here at Worlds and she came through in dramatic fashion. Yes, she had done that at the Olympics, but that event is every four years. Even if she hadn’t won at Sochi, Russia, in 2014, there would have been South Korea in 2018 and 2022. The World Championships aren’t coming back here for 10-16 years, based on Vail and Beaver Creek hosting in 1989, 1999 and 2015. This was all but a once-in-a-lifetime race and she delivered.

Then there’s her consistency. In 10 slaloms, including World Champs, she finished in the top-five nine times. Only in Levi, Finland, the opener, Shiffrin finished not only out of the top five, but, gasp, the top 10 — in 11th. Starting on Dec. 29 in Kuehtal in Tirol, Austria, she won six of her seven slalom starts, including the heart-stopper at Beaver Creek. The only non-victory was a third in Flachau, Austria. (How dare you, Mikaela?)

Progress point No. 3 is the GS. Her season-opening tie for a win in Soelden, Austria, was a breakthrough, and it was with Fenninger, which looks good in retrospect, since the Austrian won the overall and GS globes.

Shiffrin went from seventh (257 points) in 2013-14 to third this season with 357. In the eight GS races this season, again including Worlds, she was 8-for-8 in making the top 10. During the 2013-14 campaign, she had only four top-10 finishes and a DNF, a mathematical killer if you’re going for a discipline title. (On a bad day, you still have to be in the points.)

While many will holler for Shiffrin to branch out into super-G, let’s step on the brakes. We can’t say, “She’s only 19,” anymore, because she just turned 20.

“She’s only 20, people.”

Ms. Shiffrin’s goal for next season should be to defend that slalom globe and to further her GS skills. While the expectations of Shiffrin being “The Next Lindsey” are completely invalid in this space — slow and steady wins the race. She’s fast and steady and has won a bunch of races (15 on tour, two Worlds and one Olympics) and more are on the way.

Julia Mancuso

This is difficult to call. Mancuso was part of the all-American sweep on Dec. 6 in the second Lake Louise downhill with Vonn and Stacey Cook going 1-2.

Unfortunately for Mancuso, that was her only podium of the year. In fairness, Super Jules seemed to be carrying an injured hip for at least the second half of the season. She withdrew from last week’s World Cup Finals, citing that injury.

The fact, however, remains that she just turned 31, and that podiums are coming fewer and farther in between. Before Lake Louise, her last podium was the Olympics in Sochi with a bronze in the combined. Then it’s back to a second- and a third-place finishes in Garmisch, Germany, in March 2013. Her last official World Cup win was a city event in Moscow on Feb. 21, 2012. Her last victory in a traditional World Cup was the 2012 Garmisch super-G. It’s been a while.

As an athlete older than 27 on the U.S. Ski Team’s A-squad, Mancuso’s spot is secure. Those older than 27 must be in the top 30 in World Cup points, and she was 13th in downhill and 11th in super-G and 21st overall.

But with three years between wins and not many podiums since, this is something to watch.

Who’s next?

One of the reasons it’s so hard to make a call on Mancuso is that there aren’t any other racers on the women’s team poised to challenge Julia for the second spot behind Vonn in the speed events and force U.S. skiing to make a decision.

Stacey Cook, 30, was second in that Lake Louise downhill, but she had nothing approaching that finish for the rest of the season. Laurenne Ross, 26, finished fourth twice this season in downhills. Alice McKennis, 25, struggled this year in her return from a devastating leg injury. The cupboard is barer for the tech side. Resi Stiegler, 29, soldiers onward without major results. Perhaps, Paula Moltzan, 21 next month, might emerge? The Minnesotan finished 20th in the slalom at Worlds in Beaver Creek and then won the same race at Junior Worlds in Norway earlier this month.

With its elite athletes, the U.S. women had a spectacular year and Vonn and Shiffrin should carry the banner well for the next few years. Depth is a lingering question mark.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, cfreud@vaildaily.com and @cfreud.


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