Bode Miller and Ted Ligety hope to put injury-hindered World Cup seasons behind them and perform like they’ve done so many times at major competitions. At the World Championships in Vail/Beaver Creek, Colo., it might be their last chance to do so together.
Miller and Ligety, owners of a combined 18 Olympic and Worlds medals, lead the U.S. men into the biggest event of the Alpine skiing season over the next two weeks.
Miller, 37 and a six-time Olympic medalist, hasn’t competed this season due to Nov. 17 back surgery. He’s optimistic of racing the next two weeks, beginning Wednesday, but U.S. head coach Sasha Rearick said Sunday that a decision on Miller’s participation hadn’t been made yet.
Ligety, who won three gold medals at the last World Championships in 2013, is off to his slowest start to a season in six years. He’s skiing through pain, with four screws inserted into one of his hands Nov. 22.
In 2013, Ligety became the first man in 45 years to win at least three golds at a single World Championships — claiming his precious giant slalom, the super-G and the super combined.
“The head in the clouds goal would be repeating that, but I don’t know if that’s the realistic goal,” Ligety said on Universal Sports last week. “Winning the giant slalom is the biggest goal. Hopefully I can piece together another medal or two.”
Miller, should he race, and Ligety will face strong competition from World Cup overall leader Marcel Hirscher of Austria, downhill and super-G leader Kjetil Jansrud of Norway and the possible return of Jansrud’s countryman, eight-time Worlds medalist Aksel Lund Svindal.
Here’s the schedule (all ET):
Wednesday, Feb. 4 — Super-G, 1 p.m. (NBCSN, Live Extra at 12:55)
Saturday, Feb. 7 — Downhill, 1 p.m. (NBC, Live Extra at 2:30)
Sunday, Feb. 8 — Super Combined Downhill, noon (Universal Sports)
Sunday, Feb. 8 — Super Combined Slalom, 4:15 p.m. (NBCSN, Live Extra at 5)
Friday, Feb. 13 — Giant Slalom Run 1, 12:15 p.m. (Universal Sports at noon)
Friday, Feb. 13 — Giant Slalom Run 2, 4:15 p.m. (NBCSN, Live Extra at 4)
Sunday, Feb. 15 — Slalom Run 1, 12:15 p.m. (Universal Sports at noon)
Sunday, Feb. 15 — Slalom Run 2, 4:30 p.m. (NBC, Live Extra)
Here are five skiers to watch:
Possible events: Downhill, Super-G, Super Combined
2015 World Cup: No races (injury)
2014 Olympics: Bronze in super-G; sixth in super combined; eighth in downhill; 20th in giant slalom
2013 World Championships: Did not compete (injury)
Miller, already the oldest Olympic Alpine medalist, hopes to become the second-oldest man to win a World Championships medal. It’s a tall ask.
Miller has only taken part in downhill training runs this season due to his recuperating back. But he showed he can contend, as sixth-fastest in a training run in Kitzbuehel, Austria, two weeks ago.
He told The New York Times he won’t race the giant slalom and is unlikely for the super combined. That leaves two races — the downhill and super-G — for Miller to win his first Worlds medal since 2005, when he swept the downhill and super-G in Bormio, Italy.
Miller said in April that this season would likely be his last before retiring, according to the New York Times.
Possible events: Super-G, Giant Slalom, Slalom, Super Combined
2015 World Cup: One win, three podiums in 18 races; second in giant slalom standings
2014 Olympics: Gold in giant slalom; 12th in super combined; 14th in super-G; DNF in slalom
2013 World Championships: Gold in super-G, giant slalom, super combined; DNF in slalom
Ligety was wise to downplay thoughts of repeating his 2013 World Championships triple. While he has a home-course advantage, Ligety hasn’t finished in the top 10 of any super-G this season and did not finish the only super combined.
He’s no sure thing in the giant slalom, either. Top rival Marcel Hirscher has won four of the five giant slaloms this season and is likely to keep Ligety from a third straight World Cup season title in his prized event. However, the only time Ligety beat Hirscher in a giant slalom this season came at Beaver Creek on Dec. 7.
Ligety is looking to become the third man to win three straight World titles in the same event (Ingemar Stenmark, Kjetil Andre Aamodt) and the first to do it in giant slalom.
Possible events: Giant Slalom, Slalom, Super Combined
2015 World Cup: Six wins, 11 podiums in 16 races; overall and giant slalom leader
2014 Olympics: Silver in slalom; fourth in giant slalom
2013 World Championships: Gold in slalom; silver in giant slalom
Hirscher is likely to become the first man to win four straight World Cup overall titles this season, which is remarkable for three reasons. He’s just 25 years old. He doesn’t ski downhill and rarely super-G. He owns just one gold medal from the Olympics and World Championships.
Hirscher can bolster his big-event reputation by performing well as Austria’s biggest star these next two weeks. He’s known more for slalom, but it appears he has less competition in giant slalom (Hirscher and Ligety have won the last eight World Cup giant slaloms).
In slalom, Hirscher trails German Felix Neureuther in the season standings, and the last four World Cup slaloms have been won by four different men, none of whom are Hirscher.
Possible events: Downhill, Super-G, Giant Slalom, Super Combined
2015 World Cup: Five wins in 17 races; downhill and super-G standings leader
2014 Olympics: Gold in super-G; bronze in downhill; fourth in super combined; DNF in giant slalom
2013 World Championships: DNF in super-G (injured)
Just like Lindsey Vonn, the Norwegian Jansrud came back from a major knee surgery suffered in the 2013 World Championships super-G and now leads the World Cup downhill and super-G standings.
Jansrud’s crash in Schladming was not as brutal as Vonn’s. Unlike Vonn, he skied at the Olympics and won the super-G gold medal, plus downhill bronze. He must be the downhill and super-G favorite this week. Jansrud won the World Cup downhill in Beaver Creek on Dec. 5 and finished second in the super-G the next day.
Jansrud’s path at Worlds could be impeded by countryman Aksel Lund Svindal, the reigning World champion in the downhill hoping to make his season debut after rupturing an Achilles tendon playing soccer in October.
One more U.S. speed racer
Possible events: Downhill, Super-G, Giant Slalom, Super Combined
2015 World Cup: Travis Ganong, Steven Nyman won downhills
2014 Olympics: Andrew Weibrecht won super-G silver
2013 World Championships: No notable finishes
It’s been 10 years since an American man other than Miller or Ligety won a World Championships medal. Their teammates have an opportunity to break that streak on home snow the next two weeks.
Ganong, 26, showed the most promise last season when he finished fifth in the Olympic downhill and made his first World Cup podium two weeks later. Ganong won his first World Cup race Dec. 28, a downhill in Santa Caterina, Italy.
Nyman, 32, won a World Cup race on Dec. 19 for the first time in more than two years. He’s the top American in the World Cup downhill standings, fourth place, and the man behind Fantasy Ski Racer.
Then there’s Weibrecht, 28, who owns as many Olympic medals as Lindsey Vonn (two) but has never made a World Cup podium. However, Weibrecht did notch his first World Cup top-five in a super-G in Kitzbuehel two weeks ago.