downhill

‘Snow Queen’ Lindsey Vonn returns to World Cup in Italy

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The wait was finally over for the U.S.’ Lindsey Vonn, who returned to World Cup competition today in Italy after being out of commission with a knee injury since November. Vonn crashed in training runs ahead of the third World Cup stop this season in Lake Louise, but lucky for the four-time Olympian, the injury did not require surgery.

Friday’s downhill race in Cortina d’Ampezzo replaced the cancelled St. Anton event from one week ago, when a snowstorm put Vonn’s World Cup season debut on hold. Vonn had her last taste of competition back in March 2018. Needless to say, the “Snow Queen” was amped to be back.

Wearing lucky bib #13, and now strapped with matching knee braces, Vonn charged out of the start gate. Despite being clocked at a screaming 75 mph as she attacked the gates, Vonn crossed the finish in seventh place, .79 hundredths of a second behind then-current leader, Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec, who jumped out to take the early lead in the one-run race.

After seeing the scoreboard at the bottom of the hill, Vonn gave a shrug as she caught her breath, then waved to the crowd.

Vonn ultimately slipped into a tie for 15th, with a time that was 1.15 seconds off the lead.

The seventeenth skier out of the gate, Austria’s 27-year-old Ramona Siebenhofer laid down the winning run of the day, stealing the lead away from Stuhec by .40 hundredths of a second. Finishing in third was Austria’s Stephanie Venier. Full results are here.

Vonn is chasing the all-time World Cup wins record — for a man or woman — held by Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark. Vonn currently has 82 to Stenmark’s 86, but has said she intends to retire at the end of this season. Vonn told the Associated Press last week she’ll be fine if she doesn’t get the record.

“The record won’t define me, whether I get it or not,” Vonn said according to the Associated Press. “I don’t need 87 wins to be able to continue the work of my foundation, to help kids, inspire people to be healthy and active and be positive and strive to reach their dreams and goals. I don’t need that record to accomplish those things. Once I retire, 87 won’t really matter anymore.

Vonn has appeared on a World Cup downhill podium in Cortina d’Ampezzo nine times in her career — five times as the winner. The last time Vonn won a downhill at the venue was in 2016. Last season Vonn won four downhill races and one Super-G. Two of those victories came in Germany at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, next week’s World Cup stop.

Vonn will be back tomorrow racing in the second downhill of the weekend. Watch the race live on Olympic Channel or stream it on NBC Sports Gold.

The men’s World Cup resumed in Wengen, Switzerland on Friday with the Alpine combined. After the opening slalom run, U.S. skier Ted Ligety was sitting in fourth position, 1.20 seconds behind the leader at the break, Austria’s Marco Schwarz. Ligety ended up crossing the line in 11th after finishing his downhill run, eventually getting bumped back to 14th.  

Finishing in 15th behind Ligety was the U.S.’ Bryce Bennett.

Schwarz held on to take the top podium spot, getting his first career World Cup Alpine combined victory. A pair of Frenchmen joined Schwarz on the podium, Victor Muffat-Jeandet and Alexis Pinturault. Full results are here.

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MORE: How to watch Lindsey Vonn in her season debut

Bode Miller equals season best with fifth in Wengen downhill

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Bode Miller has been saying all season that he is as fit as he has been in over a decade.

He now has another marquee result to reinforce it.

The 36-year-old American star overcame adverse skiing conditions and a shortened course to post his second Top 5 finish in a World Cup downhill this season on Saturday in Wengen, Switzerland.

Dangerously high winds forced race officials to lower the start of the race below the Hundshopf jump at the Minschkante, which cut over a full minute off the course. Soft snow skied over during Friday’s super-combined froze overnight, leaving the lower portion of the course particularly rutty.

The conditions weren’t prohibitive enough to faze Miller, who led early before sliding back to fifth behind Switzerland’s Patrick Kueng, Austria’s Hannes Reichelt, Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal and Austria’s Max Franz. Miller’s effort equaled his season best in a downhill as he also finished fifth at Val Gardena, Italy on Dec. 21. Miller’s best finish was runner-up to Ted Ligety in giant slalom at Beaver Creek on Dec. 8.

“He pushed hard, took a lot of risk, and made up time,” U.S. coach Sasha Rearick said. “With those risks he made a couple of little mistakes, but he was pushing hard and letting the skis go, which is great to see Bode doing again.”

Miller was the highlight of a strong showing overall for the Americans.

Rising speed racer Jared Goldberg continued to make a strong case for Olympic selection. After finishing 20th in Friday’s super-combined, he made a huge jump in the standings, starting with Bib 40 and finishing 12th, the best finish of his career.

“I wasn’t trying to think about it too much coming in, because this year has been just a good learning year for me being my first full year on the World Cup,” Goldberg said of the impending Olympic team nominations. “But I feel really good. It was kind of a confidence builder yesterday to do well in the combined and I’ve been looking toward the downhill. Training runs have been going really well and I knew that if I really sent in there I could do well.”

Two-time Olympian Marco Sullivan finished 16th, equaling his finish of the season. Travis Ganong crossed in 28th.

“I am extremely proud of two other guys, Goldberg and Marco Sullivan,” Rearick said. “Certainly the guys in the early draw had a big advantage today. Jared Goldberg and Marco Sullivan put the hammer down with those conditions top to bottom and did a great, great job. I’m really proud of those guys, Marco with his experience, and Jared being a young guy taking some chances and really pushing it.”

In the next to last downhill race before Olympic teams are selected worldwide — the U.S. will announce it’s roster on Jan. 26 — focus was split between winning the 84th edition of the Lauberhorn classic but with an eye toward Sochi.

For Kueng, the biggest performance of his career couldn’t have come at a better time. The 30-year-old, who won his first career World Cup race on Dec. 7 in the super-G at Beaver Creek, Colo., became Switzerland’s fourth winner of this race in six years.

“It’s incredible,” Kueng told the Associated Press. “It’s very special for me. I think it’s the best place to win a race.”

The victory could bode well for Kueng if judging by past performances. The last Swiss winner in Wengen, Beat Feuz in 2012, went on to triumph at the Olympic test event on the Rosa Khutor slope in Sochi a few weeks later.

“Hats off to Kueng, he’s been skiing amazing this season,” Sullivan told AP. “It’s really not a surprise to the racers.”

For Team Austria, traditionally the powerhouses of Alpine skiing, frustration is mounting on the eve of the Games. They have not seen the top of the podium in a World Cup men’s downhill in 13 months, an eternity for the hyper-competitive squad.

Reichelt had the best opportunity to put an end to that drought, but for the third time this season he played the role of bridesmaid, a runner-up finish by .06 seconds that prompted his coach to rip off his helmet and slam it to the snow.

Compounding those feelings was the fact that Reichelt had knocked on the door of victory in this race before, finishing runner-up to Feuz in 2012 and third behind Italy’s Christof Innerhofer last season, only to have access denied.

“(Patrick) was very consistent this season,” Reichelt told AP. “It was just time until he got the victory.”

Reichelt did, however, bump Svindal down a spot to third place by just one-hundredth of a second. The hulking Norwegian, whose 6-foot-5, 214-pound frame suits the long, gliding sections of the shortened course, entered the race as the favorite, and added to his World Cup overall and downhill standings leads. But he fell short of ending a long Wengen losing streak for his country. The last Norwegian winner of this race was Lasse Kjus in 1999.

Canada’s Erik Guay, a Sochi medal favorite skiing as well as he ever has, also faltered on this course. After winning Thursday’s training run, Guay caught a bad bump entering one of the high-speed turns and skied off course. No Canadian has won this race since Ken Read, a two-time Olympian of “Crazy Cowboys” fame, in 1980.

Alexander Glebov provided a glimpse of what Russian fans can expect from their best skier in Sochi. The 30-year-old, a Slovenian by birth, continued his season-long improvement and finished 51st.

Racing will conclude in Wengen on Sunday with the men’s slalom.

Wengen Men’s Downhill

1. Patrick Kueng (SUI) 1:32.66

2. Hannes Reichelt (AUT) 1:32.72

3. Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR) 1:32.73

4. Max Franz (AUT) 1:32.90

5. Bode Miller (USA) 1:33.01

6. Matthias Mayer (AUT) 1:33.10

7. Peter Fill (ITA) 1:33.20

8. Romed Bauman (AUT) 1:33.26

9. Johan Clarey (FRA) 1:33.28

T10. Beat Feuz (SUI) 1:33.40

T10. Didier Defago (SUI) 1:33.40

12. Jared Goldberg (USA) 1:33.43

16. Marco Sullivan (USA) 1:33.65

28. Travis Ganong (USA) 1:34.10

T37. Erik Fisher (USA) 1:34.34

48. Steve Nyman (USA) 1:34.79

56. Bryce Bennett (USA) 1:35.00

Ted Ligety’s super-combined win key for Sochi Olympic medal hopes

Julia Mancuso improves but U.S. women lag behind favorites in Altenmarkt downhill (video)

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The women wearing the label of Olympic medal favorites definitely looked the part.

A challenge to that supremacy from the Americans is looking less like a sure thing.

Austria’s Elisabeth Goergl and Anna Fenninger thrilled the opening crowd with a 1-2 finish ahead of overall points leader Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany and rising star Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein in the fifth downhill race of the World Cup season Saturday in Altenmarkt, Austria.

Meanwhile, the struggles continued for the U.S. women on the whole as they failed once again to reach the podium as the clock ticked to 27 days until the start of the Winter Olympics. There was a bright spot however, as Julia Mancuso put down some of her best skiing of the season and finished 13th.

The American women came into the season as the top-ranked speed unit in the world but have collectively looked lost throughout the first half of the World Cup and have fallen well short of lofty expectations.

Six U.S. women reached a World Cup podium in at least one speed event last season. None have done so this season, and two, Lindsey Vonn and Alice McKennis, are now out of Olympic consideration with knee and leg injuries.

The closest anyone has come to a podium was on Dec. 8 when Leanne Smith finished sixth in the super-G at Lake Louise on Dec. 8. Stacey Cook’s best result is a 12th-place finish in the downhill in Lake Louise on Dec. 7. Mancuso’s best effort in a speed event was her 17th-place finish in the super-G at Lake. Since the opening race of the season, the Beaver Creek downhill on Nov. 29, Laurenne Ross hadn’t finished inside the Top 22.

At the outset, it didn’t appear like things were going to be any better here. Smith and Cook, the first two Americans out of the gate, brought little speed off the steep opening pitch, scrubbed time on the first right hand turn, got no air off the hot-air jump and carried little speed into the gliding flat sections. Cook finished 21st and Smith finished tied for 24th.

That brought up Mancuso, who might have seemed least likely to have a solid performance, especially after she spent Friday in the hospital tending to her younger sister Sara, who was injured powder skiing in Altenmarkt.

But Mancuso lived up to her reputation as a big-race performer and she raised her game. Showing no ill effects or distractions from her family ordeal, she flew through the top third and took speed into the technical mid-section. That enabled her to attack the critical lower half and cross with her best finish of the season.

“It was a good run,” Mancuso told AP. “You can’t expect to change everything in one run. Now I really believe I can win a race. I feel a lot better on my equipment. I skied positive the whole run and was trying to be confident.”

Ross skied the super-G-like turns cleanly but the rest of her run was less-than aggressive. In paying the course such respect, she sacrificed time, finishing 22nd, which equaled her season’s best.

For those looking for more-drastic improvement from the U.S. and not just baby steps, the reasons this performance could be taken as disheartening are two-fold. Firstly, there are only two downhill and two super-G races left until the U.S. Olympic team is selected on Jan. 26 and to quote Yogi Berra, “It gets late early out there.”

Secondly, today’s Kalberloch represented perhaps the closest replica to the Rosa Khutor Olympic course in Sochi that women will ski on the World Cup. It opened with a full 37-degree plunge out of the start, which gets skiers up over 70 miles per hour in four seconds, and featured big jumps and huge technical turns.

In places where the Americans had difficulties, their international counterparts thrived.

Goergl, the Vancouver downhill bronze medalist, was seen by Austrian media as being in danger of not being selected for the Sochi team. She erased those doubts in spectacular fashion today. While she wasn’t clean at the top, she had beautiful turns through the shaded forest section and attacked the key lower half to take a victory which guarantees her Olympic selection by FIS criteria.

“I know I had a super run. That gives me satisfaction,” Goergl told AP. “I am glad that I had a smooth run. Winning isn’t the most important to me. What really counts is skiing well. I wasn’t able to show that last year.”

Fenninger, who had the fastest time in Thursday’s lone training run, faced near disaster on the upper level when she hit a bump that nearly dumped her on her inside shoulder. But she recovered quickly, opened a half-second lead at the midway point and attacked the late turns en route to a lead she would later relinquish to Goergl.

The story was similar for Hoefl-Riesch, who didn’t panic after making a couple mistakes in the early turns and continued to attack. She carried enough speed off the top to glide through the flats, making up time along the way. She nailed those final technical turns in the Panorama section and rocketed into the lead.

Weirather skied the first two thirds of the course even better than Hoefl-Riesch. She had the green light through the first three time intervals but took a bad line into the final long left-footed turn and lost all of her advantage, crossing .28 behind the German.

With the runner-up finish, Fenninger picked up 80 points to take the lead in the World Cup overall standings with 677 points, six more than Hoefl-Riesch and 18 more than Weirather. Hoefl-Riesch continues to lead the downhill standings with 325 points.

Racing will continue here on Sunday with the first super-combined competition of the season.

Altenmarkt-Zauchensee Women’s Downhill

1-Elisabeth Goergl (AUT) 1:47.45

2-Anna Fenninger (AUT) 1:48.01

3-Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) 1:48.08

4-Tina Weirather (LIE) 1:48.36

5-Nicole Hosp (AUT) 1:48.47

6-Larisa Yurkiw (CAN) 1:48.58

7-Carolina Ruiz Castillo (ESP) 1:48.59

8-Marianne Kaurmann-Abderhalden (SUI) 1:48.62

9-Lotte Smiseth Sejersted (NOR) 1:48.72

10-Regina Sterz (AUT) 1:48.73

13-Julia Mancuso (USA) 1:48.84

22-Stacey Cook (USA) 1:49.92

23-Laurenne Ross (USA) 1:49.93

T25-Leanne Smith (USA) 1:50.06

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