Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin are among the biggest names in U.S. women's alpine skiing.
Vonn, of course, is the reigning queen of skiing, a four-time overall World Cup champion, two-time world champion and 2010 Olympic gold medalist in the downhill. Shiffrin, just 17, was last season’s World Cup Rookie of the Year who had a podium finish (third) as a 16-year-old and finished 17th in the season slalom standings.
But one night this week in Austria, it was just Vonn and Shiffrin, two friends from Colorado, hanging out, killing time and painting their finger nails as they counted down the days to this season’s World Cup opener, the women’s giant slalom Saturday in Soelden.
“Girls night painting nails :) ,” tweeted Vonn, @lindseyvonn. “Shiffy painted mine (left) and her own!”
You might say Vonn nailed it.
As the World Cup season gets ready to roll, there is a good chance Vonn will be golden again, while the up-and-coming Shiffrin will be someone to watch.
Vonn goes into the opening weekend of the World Cup schedule as one of two Americans defending their titles in Soelden. Vonn won the women’s giant slalom, and Ted Ligety — who will race Sunday — took the men’s race a year ago.
For Vonn, who just turned 28, this season is a chance to make history. After winning 12 World Cup races last season, Vonn now has 53 career victories, No. 3 all-time behind Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Proell (62) and Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider (55). And should she win another overall World Cup championship, she would become the first woman to win five, breaking a tie with Moser-Proell (the only other woman with four titles).
Also, after winning five straight downhill season championships, she can become the first skier — man or woman — to win six straight.
Recently, Vonn said that as good as last season was, she’s looking for even more success this season.
“I want to improve on what I did last year,” she told USA Today in September. “That may not be possible, but that’s what I’m going to try and do.”
As the American alpine teams get ready to open their seasons this weekend, we take a quick look at some of the more interesting aspects of the 2012-13 World Cup season:
Vonn VS. The Men
Aside from going up against the world’s best women, Vonn has said she wants to ski against the men in a World Cup race Nov. 24 at Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada. Vonn reportedly has asked the International Ski Federation to ski against the men on the downhill course at Lake Louise, where Vonn has won so many downhill events (nine) that it’s been dubbed Lake Lindsey. The problem for Vonn is that rules prevent her from racing on a course so close in advance of a women’s race. According to the Associated Press: “FIS has to make an exception as the rules deny skiers access to a course a week before the actual race to prevent them from having an advantage.” Vonn told the AP this week: “The women’s races are much more important to me. The overall World Cup, the downhill globe, these are very important to me.” Still, should she get a chance to race against the men, it will make global headlines.
Shiffrin, from Vail, Colo., is a rising star who reminds some of Vonn, a Burnsville, Minn., native who made her World Cup debut at age 16 in 2000 and skied for the U.S. Olympic Team at Salt Lake City two years later. Shiffrin made her first World Cup event at age 15, has won two U.S. slalom championships and made a big splash with her surprising third-place finish in the slalom at Lienz, Austria last season. Shiffrin, who said she’s been watching top performers such as Vonn for years, has said “it really feels crazy” to be competing against the world’s best. This season, it’s possible she also could win her first race. Shiffrin and U.S. teammate Resi Stiegler have been training in the Soelden area since early October and are eager to take off. Tweeted Shiffrin this week: “I’m taking up twiddling my thumbs as a hobby until the race. I’m getting really good at it.” Roland Pfiefer, technical head coach for the U.S. team, said Shiffrin has made big improvements since last season.
The U.S. Women’s Team
Americans scheduled to compete this weekend are Vonn, Shiffrin and veteran Julia Mancuso. Stiegler, who tore her ACL last March, is pointing toward the Nov. 10 slalom in Levi, Finland, as her first race of the season. Mancuso, 28, — who also broke onto the World Cup circuit at age 15 — was fourth in the overall World Cup standings last season and No. 2 in super G. She also has three Olympic medals to her credit, including two silvers at Vancouver (downhill and combined) and a gold from 2006 in the giant slalom.
The U.S. Men’s Team
Two World Cup and Olympic veterans, Ligety and Bode Miller, lead the U.S. team and will both open their seasons this weekend. Ligety, an Olympic gold medalist at Torino in 2006 in the combined, is back to defend his giant slalom title this weekend, one of three GS titles he won last season (Beaver Creek and Kranjska Gora, Slovenia). He finished No. 2 in the GS season points standings, behind Marcel Hirscher of Austria, and ninth in the overall World Cup standings. Miller, 35, was fifth in downhill points last season, with four podium finishes (one gold, two silver, one bronze). The five-time Olympic medalist (a gold, three silvers and a bronze) and four-time Olympian (1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010) underwent knee surgery in February.
After opening in Soelden and moving on to Levi, Finland, the World Cup venues shift to North America, with events in Aspen, Colo., (Nov. 24, 25) for the women, Lake Louise (Nov. 24, 25) for the men, Beaver Creek, Colo., (Nov. 30-Dec. 2) for the men and Lake Louise (Nov. 30-Dec. 2) for the women. The tour then shifts back to Europe for all but one return trip to North America (Quebec) and concludes on March 17 at Lenzerheide, Switzerland, for both the men and women. This year’s World Championships are scheduled for Schladming, Austria (Feb. 4-17).
Vonn might be her sport’s brightest star, but there are plenty of other standouts to challenge her, including Slovenia’s Tina Maze, who finished second in overall World Cup points last season, and Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch, who finished No. 3. Two of the top women in the world, however, will be skipping the opener this weekend: Austria’s Marlies Schild, last season’s slalom champion, is bypassing this race, as is her teammate, Michaela Kirchgasser, who was injured in a recent training run. Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg, who has won two consecutive World Cup season championships in the giant slalom, can become the first woman in 34 years to win three straight. She is the reigning Olympic champion in giant slalom.
Austrian Marcel Hirscher, the self-proclaimed “fastest man on skis” and the reigning overall World Cup champion, will make his debut in Sunday’s race. Switzerland’s Beat Feuz (No. 2 overall in the points standings) and Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal also return to compete this season.