This is really not going as planned for the hosts
BEAVER CREEK — Well, that didn’t go as planned.
That bronze medal Lindsey Vonn won during Tuesday’s super-G at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships here at the Beav’ is starting to look better and better.
Lindsey finished fifth in downhill?
This is not what we all envisioned when Beaver Creek and Vail got the Worlds in 2010. We were thinking that this would be the Vonn throw-down, the triumphant return of the prodigal daughter.
The wind blew her gold-medal chances away on Tuesday, a chance occurrence. Wind explains 14-hundredths of a second, the differential between bronze and gold medals in the super-G. What was interesting on Tuesday is that Vonn was able to make up time, nearly a half-second, on the lower half of the course.
On Friday, the winds were calm, and Vonn was even with Slovenia’s Tina Maze, the eventual winner, at the push-off interval and 5-hundredths ahead after The Runway, the end of the gliding of the upper portion of the course. Between The Apex and The Gauntlet, Vonn lost 0.95 seconds and was not a factor for the rest of the run.
She had, for her, a bad run, which was still good for fifth.
Three medals tops?
Making pronouncements about Vonn or any athlete’s career based on two races isn’t useful. Her career is not over. In fact, she’s still the favorite to win the World Cup globes in downhill and super-G — the World Championships do not count toward those competitions.
This was not Vonn’s last shot at Worlds. Not only will she be racing in the combined on Monday and the GS later next week, but Vonn has already said she will be competing through the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. That would seem to indicate her road will go through St. Moritz, Switzerland, for the 2017 edition of this gala event.
What is starting to become clear is that the Americans, as a whole, still don’t stack up against the best in the world of skiing. The Americans have one bronze medal in two of their best chances to hit the podium with women’s super-G and downhill and have only two more bankable shots at Worlds — men’s GS (Ted Ligety) and women’s slalom (Mikaela Shiffrin).
Sure, Travis Ganong or Steve Nyman can put one down today in the men’s downhill, and the combined can be blown wide open. And, yes, I heard your muttering of “What about Shiffrin in the GS?” That could happen, too.
But there’s now a realistic chance that the U.S. could leave here with only three medals if Ligety and Shiffrin do their stuff in their strengths.
The thing is that for the United States to be a factor in the medal count, everything has to go right. The Americans beat the Austrians in gold medals in Schladming, Austria, at the 2013 Worlds when Ligety went off, winning the super-G, combined and GS, while Shiffrin, of course, took the slalom.
Ligety wasn’t going to win three golds again because he’s not a cyborg. The last guy, before Ligety, to win three golds at Worlds was Jean-Claude Killy in 1968. That’s glorious company for Ted, but it also was 45 years between triple golds. (If you’re wondering, from 1948-1980, the Winter Olympics doubled as the World Championships.)
No insurance policy
The best insurance when things don’t go right is depth, and that’s where Team U.S.A. is sorely lacking. We like Julia Mancuso, Laurenne Ross and Stacey Cook. Who doesn’t? But they weren’t podium threats.
Who’s behind Ligety in GS or Shiffrin in slalom? Truth be told, nobody.
By comparison, yes, Austria’s Anna Fenninger was second, but her teammate Nicole Schmidhofer was fourth. What’s interesting there is that Schmidhofer’s had to earn her spot in Friday’s race during an intrasquad race against Nicole Hosp, a very accomplished skier in her own right with a World Cup overall title in 2007 and 12 World Cup victories. Yes, Ross got the nod over Alice McKennis for the Americans’ fourth downhill spot, but that was a battle of two racers with one career World Cup win combined.
Schmidhofer came to Beaver Creek without a guaranteed spot on race day and was on the hot seat for 12 racers until Fenninger surpassed her. At one point, the board had Fenninger, Schmidhofer, and Elisabeth Goergl 1-2-3.
The Austrians ended up with four in the top 15 — Fenninger second; Schmidhofer fourth, Goergl sixth and Cornelia Huetter 15th. Meanwhile, the Swiss ever-so quietly had three in the top 10.
In fairness, the Slovenians aren’t deep — but Maze seems to be doing just fine on her own.
That the Americans are not the best here at Worlds does not diminish this event in anyway. I reject the notion that sports in which Americans do not dominate are not “real” sports, like soccer.
The racing has been fantastic, and the drama just unfolds on its own. Maze beat Fenninger on Friday by 2-hundredths of a second, which translates to 1.57 feet over a 1.5-mile course.
Today’s downhill should be a whopper. As noted before, combineds have the potential for anything — and good on Lindsey for entering. The tech events will bring in a whole new skill set and group of fascinating characters.
The show goes on, but don’t expect it to be a parade of red, white and blue.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.