World-class Alpine skiing usually doesn’t cross the casual sports fan’s radar until a Winter Olympics when NBC attempts to whip us all into a patriotic frenzy about caring for all sorts of cold weather activities we otherwise don’t generally see or even hear about…because our nation’s reputation for athletic excellence is allegedly at stake.
Well, fans of World Cup Alpine Skiing are well aware there is a ski season each and every year…and American ski fans surely enjoyed the 2011-12 opener this past weekend in Soelden, Austria where a foot of new snow and freezing temps appropriately greeted the start of another race season.
I live vicariously through these daredevils wishing I could be amongst their ranks and can generally carry a conversation from year to year who is doing well or not. And I can tell you…even though the next Winter Olympics isn’t scheduled until 2014 a “golden” year of U.S. skiing is well underway after this first weekend.
Lindsey Vonn, who won the World Cup Overall title three consecutive times prior to last season, emerged victorious in this weekend’s opening Giant Slalom. Even as the most dominating female skier in the sport today, a win in a GS eluded her during her entire career until now. In winning, Vonn became just the fifth female skier to win a race in all five Alpine disciplines. She is the only female American skier to ever do it. (Bode Miller is the only male American to have at least one win in each Alpine discipline)
The Vonn triumph in GS to open the season is fascinating in that last season she lost a shot at a fourth straight Overall title by all of three points to her then BFF, Germany’s Maria Riesch. The two of them had been best friends as well as close rivals over the past several years but Vonn always prevailed in Overall…until 2010-11. Whether it was the fact the final race of the season had to be canceled in controversy due to bad weather and Vonn was denied one final attempt to continue her dominance…or because Vonn simply could not deal with the fact she had lost her run of Overall titles…she and Riesch had a parting of the ways which included Vonn’s failure to attend Riesch’s wedding in April. Considering how openly friendly the two competitors had been in front of the sport’s media and fans for years…at least before Riesch finally defeated Vonn for the Overall title…the absence was a huge deal.
While the two of them have been fairly tight-lipped about the current status of their friendship Riesch did comment in a television interview over the weekend they spoke over the summer about their “differences” and “Lindsey admitted some failures.”
All I know is Vonn’s winning of her first-ever GS is very bad news for Riesch and the rest of the World Cup women as the season gets underway. She clearly has dedicated herself to not losing an opportunity for yet another Overall title while still in her prime. It has been reported her off-season training regimen was her toughest yet. As for the newly married, new-champ Hoefl-Riesch, the obvious question of complacency came up after her disappointing 24th place finish. She reportedly did have an ankle injury she was nursing but then again…Vonn’s camp over the years has often advised she was less than 100% before competition and that never stopped her from dominating races. (I do think sometimes the injury report for Alpine skiing can be misleading…as we certainly know to be true from other sports)
Ted Ligety held up his end for the U.S. on the Men’s side, giving America a sweep with his Giant Slalom win. Having won the three previous World Cup GS titles this wouldn’t normally be a big deal…except he had never won at Soelden until this past weekend. This certainly doesn’t look like favorable conditions for his competitors in this discipline again this season since he won on a course he had not conquered previously. Perhaps Ligety is now on to even bigger and better things as he strives for a first-ever Overall title.
The U.S. Ski Team operates out of Austria now and the move of their headquarters has certainly paid off based on these results. This is the first time in almost thirty years an American woman and man won World Cup races in Austria in the same weekend…and the very first time Giant Slalom was the discipline in question. It is naturally hoped the entire women and men’s squads will be energized by the Team’s training relocation…as well as the opening weekend achievements…and U.S. skiing will go on to have its finest year yet.
For those who enjoy watching skiing regardless of whether Olympic medals are on the line Universal SportsChannel is the place to go for World Cup action. Even with no Olympics on the immediate horizon, you’ll be able to watch world-class Alpine events…and surely see many more podium appearances for Americans.