If the previous Alpine skiing season taught us anything, it’s that nobody is safe.
The three most decorated skiers all suffered knee injuries in crashes, missing part or all of the campaign.
Oct. 21: Austrian Anna Veith, the 2014 and 2015 World Cup overall champion, damages her right knee in a training crash, three days before the first race of the year. Veith misses the entire season.
Dec. 12: Mikaela Shiffrin, Olympic slalom champion, suffers right knee injuries in a light warm-up crash before a giant slalom in Sweden. Shiffrin misses two months of races, returning for the final month of the season.
Feb. 27: Lindsey Vonn, winner of 76 World Cup races, suffers three left knee fractures in a super-G crash in Andorra. Vonn’s season ends three weeks premature.
Swiss Lara Gut, once a teenage phenom who missed the 2010 Olympics due to preseason hip surgery, stayed healthy and captured her first World Cup overall title last March.
The versatile Gut won six races across four disciplines, but she also had the benefit of the absences of Veith, Shiffrin, Vonn and the other two top skiers from the year before — Slovenian Tina Maze and retired Austrian Nicole Hosp.
Of the aforementioned skiers, only Shiffrin will join Gut in the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Saturday (NBC Sports app, 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET; Universal HD, 3 p.m. ET).
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Shiffrin eyes her first outright World Cup giant slalom victory, two years after sharing a Soelden win with Veith. Any Soelden podium place would boost Shiffrin’s bid to become an overall title contender by becoming more proficient in giant slalom and adding more speed races. Shiffrin is already on an 11-race slalom win streak.
Maze, 33 and a two-time 2014 Olympic gold medalist, plans to race at one World Cup stop this season, at home in Maribor, Slovenia, from Jan. 7-8, and then retire, according to European media.
Vonn and Veith are skipping Soelden for different reasons.
Vonn passed on Saturday’s giant slalom because she’s not going for the World Cup overall title this season, but rather for individual race victories. Vonn, who does not excel in giant slalom, is 10 wins shy of the World Cup career record of 86 held by Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark. She is expected to focus on downhills and super-Gs.
Veith is the 2015 World champion in the giant slalom but simply isn’t race ready coming back from her injuries. She will also miss the next giant slalom on Nov. 26 in Killington, Vt., pushing her return to December, according to Austrian media.
Vonn hasn’t publicly committed to Killington and could, like Veith, wait for the first downhill and super-G races in December.
Everybody is looking ahead to the world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in February. That event may be a bellwether for the 2018 Olympics, especially if Veith and Vonn are back up to speed to join Gut and Shiffrin.
Four years ago at worlds, Vonn crashed and then rushed her comeback, crashed again and ended up missing the 2014 Olympics. Maze and Shiffrin each took gold medals at the 2013 Worlds and then did so again at the Sochi Winter Games.
But if last season taught us anything, the Alpine skiing landscape can change quickly.Follow @nzaccardi