Three storylines for the Olympic women’s Alpine skiing season ahead of Saturday’s World Cup opener in Soelden, Austria …
1. Second time would be sweeter for Mikaela Shiffrin
Shiffrin certainly deserved last year’s World Cup overall title, awarded to the skier who accumulates the most points across all disciplines, but she was quoted in Austrian media this month intimating that it wasn’t wholly fulfilling.
That’s because the previous overall winners — Swiss Lara Gut, Austrian Anna Veith, Lindsey Vonn and Slovenian Tina Maze — all raced partial seasons, largely due to injuries. In Maze’s case, it was a single farewell race into retirement.
Shiffrin’s hope for stronger competition this season is already dented. Gut and Veith are sitting out Saturday’s opener. They’re targeting returns from last winter’s knee surgeries in late November or early December.
(Update: Gut surprisingly announced she will race Saturday in an early return from tearing an ACL and suffering meniscus damage in February.)
Vonn plans to race in October for the first time in five years, but she downplayed overall title aspirations in recent seasons. The 33-year-old emphasized quality over quantity in limiting her race schedule, chasing the career World Cup wins record by focusing on downhills and super-Gs.
Then on Sunday, Slovenian Ilka Stuhec, the surprise runner-up to Shiffrin last season, suffered a torn ACL that will likely keep her out the entire year.
Italian Sofia Goggia, who made her first World Cup podium last season (and then 12 more), may be the most promising challenger.
MORE: Shiffrin chases higher goals as second Olympics approach
2. Lindsey Vonn’s eight-year wait
Incredibly after all of her injuries, Vonn is arguably the Olympic downhill favorite at the moment with world downhill champ Stuhec’s ACL tear.
This season is all about the Olympics for Vonn, who spent the previous two seasons chasing (when healthy) something else — the Word Cup wins record.
She managed to reach 77, nine shy of retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s total. Vonn is capable of breaking the record this season (she won nine races in 2015-16 and eight in 2014-15), but that would be cake icing at this point. She plans to go after Stenmark in 2018-19.
Vonn can set a bunch of age records this season, including oldest female World Cup downhill race winner and oldest female Olympic Alpine medalist.
But most of all she will be motivated by having to watch the Sochi Games on TV, unable to defend her emotional downhill title from 2010.
MORE: Vonn’s bid to race men delayed
3. Comebacks, comebacks, comebacks
Other than Shiffrin and Vonn, just about every big name is a question mark because of major injuries. We mentioned Gut and Veith, but also Julia Mancuso.
Mancuso, who owns four Olympic medals, last raced March 2015. She missed the last two seasons due to hip problems but is expected to finally return the first week of December.
Mancuso has an acumen for turning it on for the Olympics — she made the podium in 2006, 2010 and 2014 with scant World Cup success those seasons.
Shiffrin’s closest slalom challenger last season — Slovak Veronika Velez Zuzulova — underwent right knee surgery in September that could keep the 33-year-old out until December.
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MORE: Mancuso narrows focus in comebackFollow @nzaccardi