World Cup circuit heads to Aspen with Mikaela Shiffrin leading overall |

World Cup circuit heads to Aspen with Mikaela Shiffrin leading overall

Mikaela Shiffrin stands on the podium after the World Cup slalom in Squaw Valley, California, on Saturday. Shiffrin heads to the World Cup Finals in Aspen with a 378-point lead in the overall.
Jeff Shiffrin | Special to the Daily |

SQUAW VALLEY, Calif. — Fierce competition, an iconic setting, an American homecoming and a fun finale — athletes and organizers are expecting all of the above at this week’s World Cup Finals in Aspen.

“Finals is always fun because you have to earn your spot there and you can almost breathe and put that last effort in, and it’s always a really fun atmosphere,” said Stacey Cook, an American speed specialist who will be gunning for the downhill podium. “And I think Aspen will be able to take advantage of that for sure.”

The top-25 racers in each discipline will compete in Aspen, which will host nine races in five days — Wednesday through Sunday.

The crystal globes for the winners of the discipline titles as well as the overall titles will be handed out Sunday in Aspen.

Mikaela Shiffrin will receive a globe for the slalom title, and leads by 378 points in the race for the overall. She also has an opportunity to win a giant slalom globe, but trails Tessa Worley.

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“It’s a great scenario for her to be able to continue to pursue this overall title,” said Shiffrin’s coach Mike Day. “It doesn’t really get much better. But with home-field advantage comes home-field pressure. There are different elements she needs to deal with now that we don’t deal with when we’re away from home. But she’s a pro, and I expect her to do what she needs to do.”

It’s the first time the World Cup Finals have been in America since 1997, when they were held in Vail. The spring swing back to the U.S. has the North American racers excited about the chance to come home early and perform in front of the home crowds.

“It’s nice,” said Marie-Michele Gagnon, who competes for Canada but spends much of her offseason in North Lake Tahoe. “It’s cutting my trip short. Normally I leave for five or six months. So it’s making it a couple weeks shorter. And usually that last two to three weeks in Europe, you’re usually just getting by and you can’t wait to be home. This is like, I’m home. And I get to race still, but I’m home, finally.”

Tables are turned

Gagnon, who is in the top 25 in both giant slalom and slalom, said the event will be a nice mix of competition and fun for the skiers.

“For some girls it’s a lot of stress because they don’t know if they’re going to win the globe,” she said. “For me, I have nothing to lose. I’m there enjoying myself and trying to ski my best, basically.”

Cook said the organizing body of ski racing, the International Ski Federation, should look to add more American events in the spring timeframe.

“It really brings the tour together in a special way because, normally, we’re the team that’s away from home, and now the other girls are experiencing what it’s like to be on the road for a month at a time,” Cook said. “It probably gives them a little more respect for what we do all winter.”

Several European racers said it does take extra energy to come back to the U.S. at the end of the season, but they don’t mind it. Worley, who is from France, said she enjoys the extra travel.

“It’s actually really nice,” she said. “I like traveling. I like coming to the U.S. for skiing. This year we’ve had new venues on the tour and are discovering new places. I really love it.

Tiger Shaw, the president and CEO of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, said the community of Aspen and Aspen Skiing Co. have rallied to get ready for a great event. Shaw said he is excited about the compact venue, which will have races ending in town.

“It puts it on par with a lot of the iconic ski areas in Europe and around the world, and it shows that America is serious about racing,” he said.

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