SOCHI 2014

'14 Need To Knows: Alpine Skiing

By Paul D. Bowker | March 14, 2013, 11 a.m. (ET)
U.S. Women's Alpine Ski TeamProving they truly are "best in the world," all six members of the U.S. women's alpine skiing speed team -- Stacey Cook, Julia Mancuso, Alice McKennis, Laurenne Ross, Leanne Smith, Lindsey Vonn -- finished on the podium in the 2012-13 World Cup season.

Maryna Daniel Gasienica of Poland competes in the women's giant
slalom during the FIS Alpine Skiing European Cup Finals at
Rosa Khutor Alpine Center on March 14, 2013 in Sochi, Russia.

U.S. alpine skiers will be chasing after more Olympic medals when they head to Russia less than a year from now for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. The Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort will greet them with long courses, fast speeds and, most likely, moderate weather. The United States’ alpine skiers grabbed eight medals (two gold, three silver, three bronze) at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games and have enjoyed a strong 2012-13 World Cup season, including three gold medals won by Ted Ligety at the FIS Alpine Ski World Championships

BEGINNINGS
Alpine skiing had its Olympic berth in 1936 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. World Cup events are still held there. The only event that year was a combined event of downhill and slalom. At the St. Moritz 1948 Olympic Winter Games, separate downhill and slalom events were added to the Olympic program. In 1952, giant slalom was added. And at the Calgary 1988 Olympic Winter Games, the super-G became a part of the Olympic program.

LOOK OUT BELOW
Speed is the essence of a downhill skier. The world’s best downhillers will hit speeds of 120 kilometers per hour (74.5 mph) in Sochi. Poles are specially designed for downhill skiers so that they are curved to provide wind resistance and are longer than other poles to provide more stability at high speeds. The goal is simple: Get to the finish line as quickly as you can. The fastest times win the medals.

BEWARE THE GATES
In every other alpine event, there will be gates on the course, which has different lengths for men and women. Skiers must maneuver between multiple gates to have a clean run. The super-G, or super giant slalom, is a spectator favorite because it is a race that combines the speed of downhill with the turns and accuracies of a giant slalom race, which features widely spaced gates. The slalom features a series of gates positioned closer together, requiring athletes to successfully complete shorter turns and twists around the gates. Unlike the one-run downhill, the slalom winners will be determined by the combined adjusted time over two runs. In giant slalom, the spacing between the gates is more distant. Olympic officials expect there will be up to 70 gates in the giant slalom for men, and up to 58 gates on the women’s course.

ABOUT ROSA KHUTOR
Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort is certainly a new ski area, having been constructed just 10 years ago. The resort is situated on the northern Aibiga Ridge, near the small Russian town of Krasnaya Polyana, and the entire area has undergone a transformation in advance of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. The Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort will accommodate 7,500 spectators for the alpine skiing competition. When the first alpine test event was held there in February 2012, only two hotels were open and most of the shops and restaurants that will be open for the Winter Games were still under construction at that time. The courses were designed by Olympic champion downhill skier Bernard Russi of Switzerland. Russi won a gold medal in 1972 and the silver in 1976. He also designed the Birds of Prey downhill course in Beaver Creek, Colo. The resort is expected to open up to the public following the completion of the Paralympic Winter Games in 2014.

A LONG, LONG RIDE
Olympic skiers will discover that the length of the downhill course at Rosa Khutor will be much longer than the course at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. The course measures 3.495 kilometers, which is about 500 meters longer than Vancouver. “The track is very, very, very long, that’s the most remarkable thing about it,” U.S. Olympic champion Ted Ligety told RIA Novosti, a Russian news agency. “The course is never super technical. The race is steep, but it’s just so long, it’s really the (hardest) part about it.” All of the ski courses at Rosa Khutor measure a combined 20 kilometers.

KRASNAYA POLYANA
This Russian town is located about 60 kilometers from Sochi. Temperatures may rise into the 40s during the day during the Winter Games and back into the 30s and 20s at night. There have been times during test events that warmer weather conditions have produced soft runs on the courses. It is located in the Caucasus Mountains, just 600 meters above sea level. The town has about 4,000 permanent residents with more than one million visitors each year when there isn’t a Winter Games going on.

 Lindsey Vonn
Lindsey Vonn takes first place during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski
World Cup women's super-G on Dec. 2, 2012 in Lake
Louise, Canada.

THE COMEBACK STORY
Lindsey Vonn’s journey to Sochi will be one of the biggest stories to follow leading up to the Winter Games. On Feb. 5, 2013 — exactly one year and two days before the Opening Ceremony is scheduled to take place in Sochi — Vonn tore both her anterior cruciate ligament and her medial cruciate ligament and fractured her tibia during a super-G run at the World Championships in Austria. The four-time overall World Cup champion and 2010 Olympic gold medalist has vowed she will be back in time for the 2014 Winter Games. Vonn is no stranger to pre-Olympic injury. Leading up to Vancouver, she severely bruised her shin yet she was strong enough to become the first U.S. woman to win the Olympic downhill title.

YOUNG SPEED RACER
Mikaela Shiffrin turned 18 on Wednesday but has proven she is skilled beyond her years. She competed in her first world championships this year and left as the slalom world champion. This Saturday, she has a shot at winning the slalom World Cup title as she trails Slovenia’s Tina Maze by just seven points entering the season finale in Switzerland. Should Shiffrin win that title, she will be the first American to do so since 1984.

GOING FOR FIVE
Bode Miller will attempt to become a five-time Olympian at age 36 at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. He is already a five-time Olympic medalist, including winning a gold, silver and bronze at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. A four-time world champion and two-time World Cup overall champion, Miller said he took the 2012-13 World Cup season off so that he could fully recover from knee surgery and be ready for a run at Sochi.

 
Ted Ligety takes first place during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World
Cup men's giant slalom on March 9, 2013 in Kranjska Gora,
Slovenia.

LIGETY SPLITS
Ted Ligety has been on quite a roll this season, winning three world titles and five giant slalom World Cup events en route to the giant slalom title. The giant slalom title marked his fourth. He won in 2008, 2010 and 2011. He has skied in two Olympic Winter Games, in Torino and in Vancouver and he won a gold medal in the combined event in 2006.

THE MEDALS
Thirty medals will be awarded in alpine skiing in Sochi, 15 to women and 15 to men spread out over 10 disciplines (five for women and five for men). Of all the skiing sports, only biathlon will have more days of competition, with 11.

AIMING FOR 22
The United States can receive up to 22 quota spots in alpine skiing, and Team USA plans on qualifying for all 22 spots. Those spots are determined by having enough athletes being ranked within the top 500 in their respective events on the Olympic FIS Points List. The ending point for that ranking period is Jan. 20, 2014. The Olympic qualification period began last July. Team USA can have up to 14 athletes of either gender and may have a maximum of four competitors in an event.

QUALIFYING FOR THE WINTER GAMES
There are no actual trials for alpine skiers hoping to make the cut for the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team. Instead, performances on the FIS Alpine World Cup will determine the roster spots. In addition to Olympic veteran Miller and newcomer Mikaela Shiffrin, top U.S. contenders include two-time Olympian Ted Ligety, a three-time winner at the 2013 FIS World Championships; Lindsey Vonn, a three-time Olympian and women’s downhill winner at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games; two-time Olympians Marco Sullivan and Steven Nyman, and three-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso. The qualification period opens in October 2013 and closes Jan. 28, 2014. The 2013-14 World Cup events include one being hosted by Beaver Creek in November 2013.

PARALYMPICS
Rosa Khutor also will be the venue for the alpine skiing portion of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. Competition will be held from March 8-16 in the same five disciplines as The Olympics. Among the U.S. medal contenders: Laurie Stephens, who won gold in women’s downhill sitting and bronze in super-G sitting at the 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships in Spain, Stephen Lawler, who claimed a silver in the downhill sitting event in Spain and Alana Nichols, who scored four medals in Vancouver including gold in downhill sitting and women’s giant slalom.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Paul D. Bowker is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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