All That's Shiny Is Crystal And Gold
Olympic gold medalists Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin pose with their world cup overall globes on March 15, 2014 in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
With the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup season over, and only the U.S. Alpine Championships and springs series races left on the calendar, Ted Ligety is moving his life back to Utah — with six pairs of skis, four duffles, three backpacks and three pairs of boots packed into his car. And Mikaela Shiffrin is heading home to Colorado to have her wisdom teeth removed.
Ligety and Shiffrin headlined the U.S. ski team’s banner season, each winning Olympic gold medals and world cup crystal globes (for winning the overall giant slalom and slalom titles, respectively).
Sure, there were disappointments — no Olympic downhill gold for Bode Miller and a lackluster super combined for Ligety, and of course Lindsey Vonn’s reinjured knee. But a lot went right this season:
Two Olympic gold medals, five Olympic medals total
Two overall world cup trophies
Bode Miller’s successful return
A new face on the world cup podium
Not every trophy came easily though, and as thrillers go, Ligety’s come-from-behind victory to take his fifth overall giant slalom world cup title had the number crunchers working furiously. He won, he said, by the skin of his teeth.
Here’s a look at highlights from the 2013-14 season.
Mikaela Shiffrin had her second overall world cup slalom title wrapped up the weekend before world cup finals, making her win at Lenzerheide, Switzerland, on Saturday more ceremonial. Except that she won by an astonishing margin: 1.44 seconds over Frida Hansdotter, who’s 10 years older.
It was Shiffrin’s fifth world cup victory this season and ninth overall, tying her with Tamara McKinney and Phil Mahre, who both had nine slalom wins. McKinney and Mahre were both 24 years old when they reached their nine. Shiffrin just turned 19.
When asked what makes her so good in slalom, Shiffrin replied that she is just very comfortable on slalom skis. “It feels so easy to me,” she said. “I’m loose and let my skis go. It seems like they find the finish line for me.”
Her other secret, she said, is not listening to naysayers.
“Everybody thinks this is impossible,” she said. “You can’t win a race by 1.4 seconds anymore. You can’t win the Olympics at 18. People tell you that you can’t a lot, and I never really listen to them.”
Next for Shiffrin is to win a giant slalom race — one goal that she did not achieve this season. She also wants to extend her margins of victory in slalom, and to begin working on speed in super-G races.
At the moment, head technical coach Roland Pfeifer is puzzled about what to do with his young protégée. “The next step is very challenging,” he said. “We need to be very inventive to extend her gap a little more and get better and better.”
But first, there’s the issue of those wisdom teeth.
Speaking of teeth, Ted Ligety won his fifth overall giant slalom crystal globe by the skin of his. Before the men’s giant slalom at world cup finals, the reigning Olympic gold medalist in the event sat in second overall behind the ever-consistent Marcel Hirscher. Although Ligety had won four world cup GS races this season, he had also DNFed (not finished) in two, allowing Hirscher to lead the GS standings.
A smart guy, Ligety knew the math was simple. He had to win at world cup finals, and the Austrian had to finish fourth or worse. It would be tough. In eight GS races this season, Hirscher had finished on the podium six times.
Then the math got complicated. Hirscher was sitting in third place after his second run. Only one racer was left to go — Felix Neureuther of Germany. For Ligety to take the overall trophy from Hirscher, the German had to bump the Austrian to fourth but not beat Ligety. In other words, he had to finish his second run between 1:07.55 and 1:07.80, a quarter-second margin.
Neureuther crossed the finish line in 1:07.80, bumping Hirscher to fourth by 0.01 of a second.
“It couldn’t have gotten any closer,” said Ligety. “It’s pretty crazy to win the cup. It’s only a couple inches over the whole year. I’m super proud of that. I definitely wasn’t expecting it this morning. A lot of scenarios had to fall in my favor to have this happen.”
“I owe Felix a lot of beers,” he added.
Ligety also finished on the podium in the downhill at world cup finals. He has now finished on the world cup podium in all five alpine disciplines, a step toward winning the overall world cup title.
To achieve that goal, he must improve his consistency throughout the season, to even out the waves — “a tough battle, but it’s definitely a goal.”
Or as he jokingly tweeted: “Wait a second ... podium in downhill?! #slalomretirement?”
Other highlights this season: The return of Bode Miller and his Olympic bronze medal in super-G. The 36-year-old veteran also stood on the world cup podium four times, including a third in super-G at world cup finals.
“This year, he gave everything he could,” said head coach Sasha Rearick. “It’s so fun to watch him work hard, and I’m extremely proud of the effort he gave from the first day of camp to the last race of the season. He’s inspiring us all through his hard work and love of skiing.”
After lackluster seasons, Julia Mancuso and Andrew Weibrecht proved they are big-event skiers with their Olympic medals in Sochi (bronze for Mancuso in super combined and silver for Weibrecht in super-G). And although he was close to the podium in Sochi (fifth in downhill), Travis Ganong finally earned a world cup podium in early March.
“Across the board, it’s been a great season,” said Rearick. “The guys started off slow in speed but progressively got better. Travis finishing off the season with a bunch of top-10s, then on the podium — those kinds of results were a testament to the fight that the guys did this season.”
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.