Julia Mancuso

U.S. Ski Team depth on display in Beaver Creek, Lake Louise

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Lindsey Vonn may be on the mend, but several other U.S. Olympic medal contenders are among the skiers in action at (mostly) speed events the next two weeks.

The men’s and women’s World Cup tours make their only North American stops this weekend and again from Dec. 6-8 at Beaver Creek, Colo., and Lake Louise, Alberta.

The women race at Beaver Creek this weekend (downhill Friday, super-G Saturday, giant slalom Sunday) and the men at Lake Louise (downhill Saturday, super-G Sunday).

They flip next weekend, the men at Beaver Creek and the women at Lake Louise.

Here’s the TV schedule for the women at Beaver Creek this weekend:

Friday: Downhill, 12:30-2 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Saturday: Super-G, 12:30-2 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Sunday: Giant Slalom, 2:30-4 p.m. ET, NBC

They will also be streamed on NBC Live Extra. Universal Sports will have coverage of the men in Lake Louise.

Here are storylines to watch the next two weekends:

1. American women’s depth in speed events

The U.S. will likely have a dilemma come Sochi, with or without Vonn. Americans took up six of the top 16 spots in the World Cup downhill standings last season. A nation may enter no more than four skiers in a given Olympic event.

That’s what makes every World Cup downhill race over the next two months (and Olympic training runs in Sochi) so important. Two women with World Cup podium credentials will not ski the Sochi Olympic downhill.

World Cup results and form will largely determine the makeup of the U.S. Olympic Team, but the U.S. can bring more than four skiers to Sochi and then decide who starts after training runs.

Here are the contenders:

Lindsey Vonn — 2010 Olympic champion out with a partially torn ACL who returned to skiing Thursday and may compete in Lake Louise.
Julia Mancuso — 2010 Olympic silver medalist, who is a stronger contender in the super-G.
Stacey Cook — Fourth in World Cup downhill standings last season; fastest training run at Beaver Creek on Wednesday.
Alice McKennis — Won a World Cup downhill in Austria in January, broke right leg in February; not ready to compete yet.
Leanne Smith — Made two World Cup downhill podiums last season.
Laurenne Ross — Made one World Cup downhill podium last season.

Mancuso, Cook, Smith and Ross are slated for the Beaver Creek downhill on Friday, and it would seem the super-G on Saturday. Next week, there are two downhills and one super-G in Lake Louise.

If three or fewer American women earn top-three finishes in any World Cup race, they qualify for the Olympics. If four earn top-three finishes, tiebreakers enter the equation.

Regardless, there is room for discretionary selections, which opens the door for Vonn or McKennis to be placed on the Olympic Team even if they don’t race any World Cups.

“One of the best traits of our team is everyone has the understanding that if you get beat out for that spot, it’s not somebody else’s fault,” Cook said, according to The Associated Press. “It’s probably something you did or your own fault in some way. There’s not a lot of the blame game that you might see typically.”

The Americans will go up against international favorites German Maria Hoefl-Riesch, Slovenian Tina Maze and Swiss Lara Gut in Beaver Creek.

source: AP2. The return of Bode Miller

The five-time Olympic medalist is set for his first World Cup speed races since February 2012 in Lake Louise this weekend.

Miller, 36, missed all of last season after knee surgery. He opened this season with a 19th-place in a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, but the downhill is his best event.

Lake Louise will provide a better look at how much rust Miller has worked off and how he stacks up to the world’s best, including Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal.

Another American, Ted Ligety, has said he will not race the downhill in Sochi. In February, Ligety became the first man to win three gold medals at a World Championships in 45 years.

Ligety also said he values the World Cup overall title over an Olympic gold medal. He’s already won an Olympic gold (2006 combined) but has never taken the World Cup overall. That in mind, expect Ligety to ski the super-G in Lake Louise in Sunday.

3. Mikaela Shiffrin in giant slalom

Ski fans are well area of the Vail teen’s strength in slalom, but she focused on giant slalom training in the offseason to become a multiple-medal threat in Sochi.

Shiffrin, who won the first slalom of the season in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 16, also placed a career-best sixth in the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden on Oct. 26.

She’s expected to compete in the giant slalom in Beaver Creek on Sunday, her only race over the next two weeks. Shiffrin posted the Instagram photo below of super-G skis last week, but the U.S. Ski Team said she’s only competing in giant slalom.

You have to wonder how long Shiffrin waits before giving speed events a shot, and if her results in giant slaloms will determine when she decides to try a super-G, downhill or combined.

Shiffrin strapped on downhill skis for the first time in her life in April and owns one downhill start to her name, at the Russian National Championships in February, according to the International Ski Federation.

Video: Lindsey Vonn talks crash, comeback on TODAY

U.S. Olympic luger Emily Sweeney looks forward from depression bout

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Luge’s World Cup campaign ends this weekend in Germany, where most of the best 100 sliders in the sport will be looking to close their international seasons on a high note.

Emily Sweeney won’t be among them.

Her season ended a couple weeks ago, on her terms.

The U.S. veteran is officially two years into her recovery from a crash at the PyeongChang Olympics that she walked away from — even with a broken neck and broken back — and two years away, she hopes, from being a medal contender at the Beijing Games.

She decided to listen to her body and step away from the frantic end of the season, heading home instead to meet her sister’s new baby and formulate a plan for her offseason.

Here’s what she has learned: Fractures heal, but everything else takes time. So while her body still betrays her from time to time on the track, an additional focus on the mental game is what Sweeney hopes will get her to the medal podium in Beijing in 2022.

“I am very comfortable about thinking about my weaknesses because I failed so much early on,” Sweeney said. “I didn’t make two Olympic teams right in a row. I constantly had to look at myself and say ‘What’s wrong? What am I not like?’ I had to be creative with my training and with the whole process. And so, I think I’m pretty comfortable with challenges.”

That’s why, this season, when she felt like her body couldn’t do it anymore she simply went home. The decision was not easy: Her team is still competing, she has plenty of friends on the circuit and her longtime boyfriend — Italian star Dominik Fischnaller — is a serious contender to win the men’s World Cup overall title.

But a setback right now could throw a serious wrench into her Olympic plans. The problem was pressure, not in the sense of what’s comes with the prospects of winning or losing in competition, but the massive gravitational force that sliders feel and fight through when they are on the ice at speeds often topping 80mph. It takes tremendous strength, and Sweeney’s neck still isn’t always up to the challenge. So, with wear and tear of the season taking a toll, she headed home.

“It’s not a question of if I’m good enough,” said Sweeney, who won a medal at last season’s world championships — cementing her status as one of the fastest women on ice. “I see it in my splits. I would have first-place splits, then get to the pressure and I ended up 15th. I just couldn’t keep going through this cycle of pushing it, pushing it, pushing it and then losing all my speed as soon as I can’t hold my head up anymore.”

So she’s working on her body and her mind.

Sweeney is one of the most-upbeat sliders on the luge circuit; always smiling, always happy, and most of the time her good mood is genuine. After the crash, however, the good mood wasn’t always there, and it took Sweeney some time to realize that there was more wrong than just the fractures in her neck and back.

“I went into a depression,” Sweeney said. “It’s weird saying that. But it feels foreign to me to say I broke my neck and my back two years ago. And it feels dramatic to say, which I guess I need to just get more comfortable with that. But I think that just the way I was raised was like, ‘All right, brush it off and move on.’ And that’s why I think I appear a lot of times like it’s just sunshine and rainbows, but this one forced me to stop. But you have to. And the alternative is to stay at that low and that just becomes miserable.”

From therapy came a plan: Do one thing a day to feel better toward the ultimate goal of medaling in 2022.

Most days, she succeeds. When Sweeney is right, especially in sprint events, few women in the world have a chance of catching her. Her sliding career is peaking. Her mental game, she thinks, is catching up.

And now she’s got two years to put the whole package together.

“Being an Olympian was my dream since I was 7 years old,” Sweeney said. “And then I became an Olympian, and I said, ‘Well, that’s not enough. I want a medal.’”

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MORE: Lugers boycott World Cup event

Jennifer Valente takes silver in world cycling championship scratch race

Jennifer Valente
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Jennifer Valente won the first medal for the U.S. team in the world track cycling championships Wednesday in Berlin, finishing second behind Dutch cyclist Kirsten Wild in the scratch race.

Wild won the mass-start event for the third time, having taken gold in 2015 and 2018, and her seventh world championship in all track cycling disciplines. She also took silver in the 2016 world championship road race.

Valente also joined Chloé Dygert, Emma White and Lily Williams in women’s team pursuit qualifying, posting the fastest time of the day and easily qualifying for the semifinals on Thursday. The U.S. team has been in transition with the retirement of Sarah Hammer and the death of Kelly Catlin, who committed suicide in March. Hammer, Catlin, Dygert and Valente took silver in the 2016 Olympics.

READ: Dygert aims for road and track double in Tokyo

The Netherlands took two of the three gold medals on Wednesday’s program, beating Britain to win the men’s team sprint. Germany beat Australia to win the women’s team sprint.

READ: Track cycling broadcast and streaming schedule

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