Vail Daily column: Welcoming the world to Vail
Sometime around 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, Lindsey Vonn will step into the start house, click her poles together and place them firmly on the downhill side of the wand. She’ll maybe steal a glance to the east, where she grew up racing down Vail Mountain. But she’ll quickly turn her attention to the task at hand on Raptor, a twisty, pitching, terrain-filled speed course that will truly separate our the champion. With a few screams of encouragement, she will push out to finish a job she started two years earlier when she opened the 2013 Worlds in Austria, crashing hard in the super-G.
At the bottom in the Redtail Stadium, thousands and thousands of fans will cheer her on, exhorting every ounce of speed from their hometown hero. Among them will be Tamara McKinney. Like Vonn, McKinney was the most decorated athlete of her time, becoming the first U.S. Ski Team athlete to win the overall World Cup title in 1983. She’s also the only American to win a medal in the past two World Championships in Vail/Beaver Creek.
The FIS Alpine World Ski Championships open in Vail/Beaver Creek today — the third time for the Colorado resort. Each of the previous two Championships has brought its own legacy. 1989 saw the creative use of Rattlesnake Alley to generate a bit more pizazz to the men’s downhill on Centennial while the women raced down Vail Mountain 20 minutes away. 1999 saw the debut of Birds of Prey for the men. And while the medals weren’t generous to the U.S. Ski Team that year, the spark had been ignited on a race course the USA has dominated.
Here’s an interesting stat. Since the Audi FIS Ski World Cup started making a regular visit to Birds of Prey in December 2002, and now Raptor for the women, the USA has taken 26 podiums — including 12 wins! The U.S. Ski Team is hoping that will change as it brings its strongest team ever to the World Championships.
‘Ready for Vail’
“I’m ready for Vail!” said Vonn after her 64th Audi FIS Ski World Cup win last weekend. “I feel confident, I’m skiing well and hopefully it will be a good World Championships for me.
The Vail/Beaver Creek World Championships will feature a strong U.S. Ski Team. And it will also be a party all-American style. The Vail Valley is aglow with excitement, welcoming the world like never before with everything from concerts featuring national artists to cheerleaders.
Since the last time the Championships visited in 1999, the U.S. Ski Team has seen the rise of many new stars. Bode Miller was on that 1999 U.S. team with one of its best results, eighth in slalom. Since then he has won 11 World Championship and Olympic medals, including four world titles. All eyes are on this week’s team selection to see if he’ll get the nod.
Julia Mancuso kick-started her career with two World Championship bronze in 2005 and now has more Olympic and World Championship than any American woman at nine. Lindsey Vonn has five World Championships medals including a sweep of downhill and super-G gold in 2009. Teen Mikaela Shiffrin closed out World Championships two years ago beating her childhood hero to win slalom gold in Austria. Ted Ligety has four world titles including an impressive three gold medals two years ago in Schladming.
Ligety is coming a bit quietly into Vail/Beaver Creek but with the comfort of knowing he’s won five times on Birds of Prey, including a four-win streak that goes back to 2011.
“It’s awesome having the World Champs in the USA,” said Ligety. “It’s going to be a lot of fun having a big event in the here. It’s something I’ve never experienced before. It’s always nice to take the Euros out of their element a little bit and have them living in their duffel bags for a couple of weeks as opposed to always being the North Americans.”
Fans will see ski racing at its finest. Birds of Prey is a proven classic. And the women’s Raptor is poised. “It’s a very difficult hill and one that requires a lot of tactics,” said Vonn.
It’s especially important for Vonn, coming in her hometown. “I have more pressure on myself because I want to perform well for my family. Everyone is going to be there. I want to have it be a really fun World Championships for them and have something to celebrate.”
Rest assured, the next two weeks will provide plenty of excitement and, hopefully, much to celebrate!
One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president of communications for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. This column first appeared in the Park Record in Park City, Utah.
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