Three takeaways from World Alpine Skiing Championships

Tina Maze, Anna Fenninger, Lindsey Vonn
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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.

Miller spectacularly crashed in his only race, the super-G, likely ending his decorated career.

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
Lindsey Vonn 1 2 64 4 13
Tina Maze 2 4 26 1 3
Maria Hoefl-Riesch 3 2 27 1 5

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.”

All living Miracle on Ice players to gather in Lake Placid for first time since 1980 Olympics

In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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