Audi FIS World Cup - Women's Downhill Training

Julia Mancuso improves but U.S. women lag behind favorites in Altenmarkt downhill (video)

1 Comment

The women wearing the label of Olympic medal favorites definitely looked the part.

A challenge to that supremacy from the Americans is looking less like a sure thing.

Austria’s Elisabeth Goergl and Anna Fenninger thrilled the opening crowd with a 1-2 finish ahead of overall points leader Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany and rising star Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein in the fifth downhill race of the World Cup season Saturday in Altenmarkt, Austria.

Meanwhile, the struggles continued for the U.S. women on the whole as they failed once again to reach the podium as the clock ticked to 27 days until the start of the Winter Olympics. There was a bright spot however, as Julia Mancuso put down some of her best skiing of the season and finished 13th.

The American women came into the season as the top-ranked speed unit in the world but have collectively looked lost throughout the first half of the World Cup and have fallen well short of lofty expectations.

Six U.S. women reached a World Cup podium in at least one speed event last season. None have done so this season, and two, Lindsey Vonn and Alice McKennis, are now out of Olympic consideration with knee and leg injuries.

The closest anyone has come to a podium was on Dec. 8 when Leanne Smith finished sixth in the super-G at Lake Louise on Dec. 8. Stacey Cook’s best result is a 12th-place finish in the downhill in Lake Louise on Dec. 7. Mancuso’s best effort in a speed event was her 17th-place finish in the super-G at Lake. Since the opening race of the season, the Beaver Creek downhill on Nov. 29, Laurenne Ross hadn’t finished inside the Top 22.

At the outset, it didn’t appear like things were going to be any better here. Smith and Cook, the first two Americans out of the gate, brought little speed off the steep opening pitch, scrubbed time on the first right hand turn, got no air off the hot-air jump and carried little speed into the gliding flat sections. Cook finished 21st and Smith finished tied for 24th.

That brought up Mancuso, who might have seemed least likely to have a solid performance, especially after she spent Friday in the hospital tending to her younger sister Sara, who was injured powder skiing in Altenmarkt.

But Mancuso lived up to her reputation as a big-race performer and she raised her game. Showing no ill effects or distractions from her family ordeal, she flew through the top third and took speed into the technical mid-section. That enabled her to attack the critical lower half and cross with her best finish of the season.

“It was a good run,” Mancuso told AP. “You can’t expect to change everything in one run. Now I really believe I can win a race. I feel a lot better on my equipment. I skied positive the whole run and was trying to be confident.”

Ross skied the super-G-like turns cleanly but the rest of her run was less-than aggressive. In paying the course such respect, she sacrificed time, finishing 22nd, which equaled her season’s best.

For those looking for more-drastic improvement from the U.S. and not just baby steps, the reasons this performance could be taken as disheartening are two-fold. Firstly, there are only two downhill and two super-G races left until the U.S. Olympic team is selected on Jan. 26 and to quote Yogi Berra, “It gets late early out there.”

Secondly, today’s Kalberloch represented perhaps the closest replica to the Rosa Khutor Olympic course in Sochi that women will ski on the World Cup. It opened with a full 37-degree plunge out of the start, which gets skiers up over 70 miles per hour in four seconds, and featured big jumps and huge technical turns.

In places where the Americans had difficulties, their international counterparts thrived.

Goergl, the Vancouver downhill bronze medalist, was seen by Austrian media as being in danger of not being selected for the Sochi team. She erased those doubts in spectacular fashion today. While she wasn’t clean at the top, she had beautiful turns through the shaded forest section and attacked the key lower half to take a victory which guarantees her Olympic selection by FIS criteria.

“I know I had a super run. That gives me satisfaction,” Goergl told AP. “I am glad that I had a smooth run. Winning isn’t the most important to me. What really counts is skiing well. I wasn’t able to show that last year.”

Fenninger, who had the fastest time in Thursday’s lone training run, faced near disaster on the upper level when she hit a bump that nearly dumped her on her inside shoulder. But she recovered quickly, opened a half-second lead at the midway point and attacked the late turns en route to a lead she would later relinquish to Goergl.

The story was similar for Hoefl-Riesch, who didn’t panic after making a couple mistakes in the early turns and continued to attack. She carried enough speed off the top to glide through the flats, making up time along the way. She nailed those final technical turns in the Panorama section and rocketed into the lead.

Weirather skied the first two thirds of the course even better than Hoefl-Riesch. She had the green light through the first three time intervals but took a bad line into the final long left-footed turn and lost all of her advantage, crossing .28 behind the German.

With the runner-up finish, Fenninger picked up 80 points to take the lead in the World Cup overall standings with 677 points, six more than Hoefl-Riesch and 18 more than Weirather. Hoefl-Riesch continues to lead the downhill standings with 325 points.

Racing will continue here on Sunday with the first super-combined competition of the season.

Altenmarkt-Zauchensee Women’s Downhill

1-Elisabeth Goergl (AUT) 1:47.45

2-Anna Fenninger (AUT) 1:48.01

3-Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) 1:48.08

4-Tina Weirather (LIE) 1:48.36

5-Nicole Hosp (AUT) 1:48.47

6-Larisa Yurkiw (CAN) 1:48.58

7-Carolina Ruiz Castillo (ESP) 1:48.59

8-Marianne Kaurmann-Abderhalden (SUI) 1:48.62

9-Lotte Smiseth Sejersted (NOR) 1:48.72

10-Regina Sterz (AUT) 1:48.73

13-Julia Mancuso (USA) 1:48.84

22-Stacey Cook (USA) 1:49.92

23-Laurenne Ross (USA) 1:49.93

T25-Leanne Smith (USA) 1:50.06

 Lindsey Vonn adopts dog with ‘bum knee’

Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin criticize crash-filled World Cup race

Lindsey Vonn of the United States, who refused the start, talks to reporters in the finish area during the women's alpine combined Super-G race of the Alpine Skiing World Cup, in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. (Alessandro della Valle/Keystone via AP)
AP
Leave a comment

CRANS MONTANA, Switzerland (AP) — Lindsey Vonn wasn’t about to risk another injury, and neither was Mikaela Shiffrin.

Vonn and Shiffrin, along with some of their American teammates on the World Cup tour, pulled out of the Alpine combined race on Friday because of dangerous conditions on the course. The first three racers all crashed, and one was taken away on a stretcher with a knee injury.

“For me I’ve had so many injuries, I don’t need to risk anything today,” Vonn said. “A lot of the other athletes and coaches were asking me to put pressure on everyone to try to cancel the race because it’s too dangerous and I did my best but I just pray that no one else gets hurt today. I think it was a smart decision for our team to pull out of the race.”

Shiffrin also called the conditions dangerous and said the International Ski Federation (FIS) didn’t listen to athletes who raised concerns, according to Swiss newspaper Blick.

After Ilka Stuhec, Tessa Worley and Denise Feierabend all fell at nearly the same point in the opening super-G portion of the combined race, the event was postponed and the start was lowered.

Stuhec and Worley were able to restart, but Feierabend could not because of her injury. Worley then crashed again on her second attempt.

Federica Brignone, who was second after the super-G portion, won the race, overtaking first-run leader Stuhec in the slalom. Michaela Kirchgasser was third. Full results are here.

Vonn said the race shouldn’t have gone ahead at all after several of the forerunners — including American teammate Julia Mancuso — crashed while testing the course as the snow began to melt in changeable weather conditions.

“First and foremost, if all of the forerunners are crashing and not finishing that’s a sign that something’s wrong,” Vonn said. “The forerunners are there for a reason. Julia was one of the forerunners, she told them and they didn’t listen.

“No. 2: Listen to the representatives. Sofia (Goggia) told them that it was not acceptable to race, but they didn’t listen and now Denise probably blew her knee out because no one listened.”

The 32-year-old Vonn missed nearly two seasons of competition after injuring her right knee in Austria in 2013. She hurt the same knee in her comeback.

Vonn returned to competition last month after nearly a year out with knee and arm injuries.

“The problem is a lot of times people mistake our opinions as just whining,” Vonn said. “We’re women and we’re whining and we just need to suck it up and race, and that’s not the case. Probably more than half or the field has been injured before … it’s unfortunate that the FIS doesn’t listen to us.”

The U.S. ski federation announced that its team of Vonn, Shiffrin, Laurenne Ross, Jacqueline Wiles, Breezy Johnson and Stacey Cook would not compete. But Wiles, Cook and Johnson did start, with only Johnson finishing the opening leg. She was in 36th place after the super-G.

Shiffrin, the overall World Cup leader, holds more than a 300-point lead in the standings over Stuhec and Goggia, the next active challengers. Defending overall champion Lara Gut, in second place, is out for the rest of the season after injuring her knee while training between runs of the combined event at the world championships in St. Moritz two weeks ago.

Goggia was also among the 16 skiers who did not finish the super-G.

Friday’s race was rescheduled from Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, Austria. There is another combined race scheduled for Sunday, with a super-G on Saturday.

“It has to be everyone looking out for the most important thing, the athletes’ safety,” Vonn said. “I realize if the race is cancelled people lose money and the fans, I understand all of the politics, but there is no ski racing and there is no politics if we don’t have safe athletes.”

MORE: Stenmark to Vonn: ‘Don’t beat my record too early’

Anna Veith ends season early as Austrian injuries pile up

ST MORITZ, SWITZERLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Anna Veith of Austria reacts at the finish during the Women's Super G during the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships on February 7, 2017 in St Moritz, Switzerland.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Austrian Anna Veith, the best female Alpine skier in 2014 and 2015, will undergo left knee surgery Tuesday, ending an abbreviated comeback season following right knee surgery 16 months ago.

“This surgery is the only chance to continue living my dream. To ski the way I want to do it, competing and being part of the Olympics again,” was posted on Veith’s social media Friday, adding that she was skiing with pain due to patellar tendon problems.

The 27-year-old won super-G gold and giant slalom silver at the Sochi Olympics, then the World Cup overall title a month later and the following season.

Veith then had a drawn-out comeback from tearing the ACL and patellar tendon in her right knee in an Oct. 21, 2015 crash. She missed all of the 2015-16 campaign and was slow to return to form this season.

Her best finish was 19th in her first six races, but then Veith placed third in the last super-G before the world championships earlier this month. At worlds, she failed to finish the super-G and was 22nd in the giant slalom, two years after winning both events.

Veith is the third Austrian women’s star to bow out due to injury this year, following 2016 World Cup giant slalom champion Eva-Maria Brem and Cornelia Huetter, the top Austrian in last season’s World Cup overall standings in seventh place.

MORE: Stenmark to Vonn: ‘Don’t beat my record too early’