The just-completed World Championships brought together one of the greatest collections of Alpine skiing talent in history, a group that will likely never compete at the same event again.
The U.S. held its own at its first home World Championships since 1999, but traditional powerhouse Austria dominated with a leading five gold medals and nine overall.
Before the World Cup season continues this weekend, let’s take a look at the lasting storylines of the last two weeks in Vail and Beaver Creek, Colo.:
1. A U.S. all-star team like we’ve never seen
Combined, they own 43 Olympic/World Championships medals. They include the fantastic four of this golden generation of U.S. skiing — Lindsey Vonn, Ted Ligety, Bode Miller and Julia Mancuso — plus new stars Mikaela Shiffrin and Travis Ganong as well as Andrew Weibrecht.
In Beaver Creek, they took part in the same competition for the first time ever. And they’ll likely never compete together again.
Vonn, in her return from two knee surgeries that forced her to miss the Sochi Olympics, captured super-G bronze but was disappointed not to earn more medals.
Ligety became the most decorated U.S. skier in World Championships history with his sixth and seventh medals, gold in the giant slalom and bronze in the super combined.
Mancuso, known for rising to the occasion in pressure events, failed to earn a medal at an Olympics or World Championships for just the second time in more than a decade.
Shiffrin and Ganong both delivered as they usher in the new era of U.S. skiers. Vonn, Ligety, Miller and Mancuso are all age 30 and over. Shiffrin, 19, repeated as World champion in the slalom. Ganong, 26, captured his first major championships medal, silver in the downhill.
2. Tina Maze stakes her claim to greatest of her era
Vonn was the talk of Alpine skiing in December and January. Her comeback and pursuit of Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell‘s women’s World Cup victories record dominated the news.
But, the Slovenian Maze has been the best all-around skier this season and for much of the last three years. Maze proved it again in Beaver Creek, winning medals in her first three races to bring about more historic headlines, a shot at becoming the first woman to win five individual medals at one World Championships.
Though Maze fell short, she easily outperformed Vonn in Beaver Creek to bring about this question:
Who is the greatest female skier of this generation? Add in German Maria Hoefl-Riesch, who retired after last season, and here are the candidates’ credentials:
|Skier||Olympic Golds||World Champs Golds||World Cup Wins||World Cup Overall Titles||World Cup Discipline Titles|
Each owns unprecedented accomplishments — Vonn’s 64 World Cup wins, Maze’s 2,414 points in the 2013 World Cup season and Hoefl-Riesch the only skier to win World Cup titles in both downhill and slalom.
“Tina’s been on the World Cup for a long time, and it’s only the last three or four years that she’s really come into her peak form,” Vonn said. “Maria’s been pretty consistent throughout her whole career. Julia’s [Mancuso] been there as well. … I think everyone pushes each other.”
Hoefl-Riesch pointed out a difference among them. She and Vonn both missed major championships due to knee surgeries, but Maze has stayed largely injury-free in comparison.
“All the three of us were good skiers in every discipline,” said Hoefl-Riesch, who worked as a commentator for German TV in Beaver Creek. “Tina, actually, was the only one who was lucky with her body. As far as I know, she never had a really bad knee injury. She had a really consistent, great career, especially always at the big events she was having the best performances. What we all had together was big success over many years. We also had times where we had to fight.”
Maze has said she will not ski at a fifth Olympics in 2018 and may even retire following this season.
3. Austria makes amends
The greatest skiing nation fizzled the last time a major competition was held outside Europe. Austria left the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games with a total of four Alpine medals, one gold and zero from the men.
Beaver Creek turned out to be a vastly different affair. The Austrians were in line to pull off their greatest World Championships in 28 years with Marcel Hirscher leading going into the final men’s slalom run Sunday. Though Hirscher straddled a gate, failing to win his third gold of the two weeks, he put it in proper perspective.
“Yes it sucks, but who cares,” he said on Eurosport.
In between the first and second runs Sunday, Hirscher called it a “perfect World Championships.” He could have spoken for all of the Austrians, who combined for five gold medals and nine overall. Especially Anna Fenninger, who earned two gold medals and one silver.
“We have done so much better than expected [in Beaver Creek],” Austrian 1976 Olympic downhill champion Franz Klammer said on Eurosport, adding that the expectations were for two or three golds.
Hirscher helped make up for his own disappointing performance in Sochi, failing to win his first Olympic gold medal. The 25-year-old has won the World Cup overall title the last three years and leads the standings again this season, looking to become the first man to capture four straight crowns.
“It is great to be a hero in Austria, because skiing is the No. 1 sport,” Klammer said on Eurosport. “And it is fun.”