Maria Hoefl-Riesch

Tina Maze, Anna Fenninger, Lindsey Vonn

Three takeaways from World Alpine Skiing Championships

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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.”

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Maria Hoefl-Riesch has no second thoughts about retirement

Maria Hoefl-Riesch
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HARRISON, N.J. — Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Lindsey Vonn were both in the New York City area on Thursday. The longtime friendly rivals had only exchanged emails and texts since Vonn’s last race in December.

Hoefl-Riesch was in town as part of German champion soccer club Bayern Munich’s U.S. tour. Vonn spoke at an Under Armour launch for women’s apparel.

“Hopefully tonight we can have a drink at the hotel bar,” Hoefl-Riesch said from a suite at the New York Red Bulls’ stadium, where Bayern played a Mexican club.

There would be plenty to catch up on. Hoefl-Riesch and Vonn, born six weeks apart in 1984, were the world’s two best Alpine skiers from 2008 through 2012, before major injury struck Vonn.

But it’s Hoefl-Riesch who never plans to ski again. She retired after crashing at the World Cup Finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, in March, one month after winning Olympic gold and silver in Sochi.

She left the sport near the top of her game. She entered that final race in the Alps leading the World Cup overall standings, seeking her first title since she nipped Vonn by three points in 2011.

Then she fell (video here), landed into netting, screamed and was helicoptered off with shoulder injuries in Lenzerheide. Hoefl-Riesch missed the final three races of the season, and Austrian Anna Fenninger passed her for the overall crystal globe.

“[Retiring] had nothing to do with that [crash],” Hoefl-Riesch said, citing a lack of motivation to continue tiring training beginning before seasons in the summers. “Of course, that was not a very nice ending for me because if you do your last race, you actually want to know it before. But on the outside maybe it was better like this, because when you’re in the start gate at your very last race and know it’s your very last time, then you might be more emotional.”

She decided in the first few days after the crash to hang up her ski boots for good. Now, seeing other skiers’ tweets about going to South America to train in the southern hemisphere’s winter only reinforces her decision.

“In winter maybe I will miss something because it was my passion,” Hoefl-Riesch said. “My whole life was about skiing.”

Soccer has been a big part of her life the last few months, being a German married to the manager of World Cup legend Franz Beckenbauer.

She originally planned to attend the World Cup in Brazil, but watched the final while in Italy instead (Beckenbauer was suspended by FIFA near the start of the tournament and, even after it was lifted during the World Cup, didn’t fly to Brazil).

The reception in Germany for the victory dwarfed any celebration for an Olympic gold medalist.

“It’s not comparable to anything,” Hoefl-Riesch said. “It was always that way that skiing had less attention, but I’m not jealous. That’s the way it is. Soccer has so much money and sponsors. It’s great for the economy in Germany.”

Hoefl-Riesch will still stay connected to Alpine skiing. Her younger sister, Susanne Riesch, is still active on the World Cup circuit, and she plans to work for German TV at the 2015 World Championships in Vail/Beaver Creek, Colo., near Vonn’s home.

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Maria Hoefl-Riesch retires from Alpine skiing

Maria Hoefl-Riesch
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German Maria Hoefl-Riesch retired Thursday, ending one of the greatest recent careers in Alpine skiing.

“My decision is to end my career now,” she said, according to The Associated Press.

Hoefl-Riesch, 29, won four Olympic medals and six World Championships medals. She finished in the top three of the World Cup overall standings each of the last seven seasons, including winning the title over friendly rival Lindsey Vonn in 2010-11.

Hoefl-Riesch said at the Sochi Olympics she would not ski at the Olympics in 2018. She crashed at the World Cup Finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, on March 12, ending her season prematurely.

Hoefl-Riesch, who was leading the World Cup overall standings when she crashed, finished second to Austria’s Anna Fenninger overall and won the downhill crystal globe.

Hoefl-Riesch’s versatility is apparent from her Olympic medals. She won gold in 2010 in the super combined and the slalom, gold in 2014 in the super combined and silver in Sochi in the super-G.

“One should quit when it’s the best and that [Sochi] was the best that could have happened to me,” Hoefl-Riesch said, according to the AP. “”The first gut feeling after the Olympics and the gold medal was to retire on that success.

“It was a dream-like career, I was at the top in all disciplines over the years.”

Hoefl-Riesch, Vonn and Tina Maze have been the class of women’s Alpine skiing over the last two Olympic cycles, following the retirement of Janica Kostelic and Anja Paerson finishing her career.

Vonn, 29 like Hoefl-Riesch, plans to return to skiing next season following knee surgeries. Maze, 30, has said she will not ski at the next Olympics but hasn’t said when she will retire.

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