|Lindsey Vonn reacts after earning bronze in super-G in Red Tail Stadium at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships on Feb 3, 2015 in Beaver Creek, Colo.
That’s what the U.S. Ski Team came away with from the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Vail-Beaver Creek, Colorado. It was perhaps not the number of medals that the team hoped to win on home snow — and it might have been more had Bode Miller not crashed horrifically in the men’s super-G.
But the championships — and each medal won by the U.S. — exceeded expectations in many other ways. Here’s a look at the top 10 highlights from these championships:
The U.S. team met its goal of winning a gold medal on home snow for the first time since Tamara McKinney claimed the women’s combined crown at the 1989 world championships, also held in Vail. In fact, with Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin both defending their world titles (in giant slalom and slalom, respectively), the team won two golds in front of a home crowd.
Lindsey Vonn’s bronze medal in women’s super-G kicked off the competition for the U.S. It was the very event in which she initially tore up her knee two years ago, and the bronze medal was a sign that she had come full circle from that injury.
Although Vonn had hoped for gold on her “home” course, she struggled with the steep, icy Raptor course throughout worlds — a course that she had only trained on a few times. She missed the world cup “test” event last December due to her double knee injury.
“You have to be happy to medal at home after being injured the past two years,” she admitted. “This season has been a lot more than I expected. To come away with a medal is awesome.”
|Bode Miller waves to signal he is OK after crashing in the super-G at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships on Feb. 5, 2015 in Beaver Creek, Colo.|
Although far from a highlight, we would be remiss not to mention Bode Miller’s spectacular and horrific crash in the men’s super-G. Leading for most of the race, Miller hooked his arm in a gate, spun around, and crashed hard, tumbling halfway down the finishing pitch. He waved to his family to indicate that he was all right. But in truth, he wasn’t. His ski edge sliced through the back of his right leg — and through his hamstring tendon. It was likely the final ski race of Miller’s storied career.
The U.S. team needed some good news after Miller’s crash. And Travis Ganong’s breakthrough silver medal in men’s downhill medal did the trick. The only downside of Ganong’s stirring run down the Birds of Prey course? He bumped the affable Steven Nyman off the podium after Nyman, the consummate teammate, radioed up after his run to tell Ganong to “send it.” Ganong did just that.
“You have to learn how to ski downhill,” said Ganong, who won his first downhill world cup in December. “It’s such a dangerous sport. It’s such on the limit. You have to know how to ride that fine line between risk and reward and know how to get to that reward at the end of the day.”
Even without Miller in men’s downhill, the U.S. put four skiers in the top 20. Behind Ganong, Nyman finished fourth, two-time Olympic medalist Andrew Weibrecht was ninth and up-and-comer Jared Goldberg finished 20th.
“The great champion that everyone expected to do something unfortunately had a bad accident,” said head men’s coach Sasha Rearick. “The rest of the guys stepped up. Hats off to all the guys.”
|Ted Ligety wins the bronze medal during the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships men's combined on Feb. 8, 2015 in Beaver Creek, Colo.|
The defending world champion in men’s combined, Ted Ligety knew his chances of medaling in the event — with the downhill on the challenging Birds of Prey course — were slim. They were even slimmer after Ligety skied a “horrible” downhill, finishing 29th.
Assuming he had no chance, Ligety skied the slalom with “reckless abandon.” He finished second behind Marcel Hirscher in the race standings. Then as warm temperatures made huge ruts in the slalom course, he held his position, finally getting bumped to bronze medal position by Norwegian speed skier Kjetil Jansrud. Skiing a slow downhill ended up being a “brilliant” strategy, joked Ligety.
Jared Goldberg finished the combined downhill in third place, marking the best finish yet in a speed event for the 23-year-old Olympian.
Giant slalom is Ligety’s race, so much so that the 30-year-old is often referred to as Mr. GS. But he hasn’t dominated as much this season, only winning one of five world cup giant slalom races to date. Sitting fifth after the first run, he looked like he would get more of the same.
But then Ligety uncorked such a flawless run that it arguably elicited the loudest cheers from the stands. It launched him into first and to his third consecutive world championships gold medal in the event (and record seventh worlds medal overall). It was the gold that the U.S. team was seeking.
“To be able to come through and pull it off is awesome,” Ligety said.
|Mikaela Shiffrin celebrates after winning the slalom at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships on Feb. 14, 2015 in Beaver Creek, Colo.
On Valentine’s Day, hometown favorite Mikaela Shiffrin became only the third woman in history — and the youngest — to defend her world slalom title. With the crowd chanting “USA! USA!,” Shiffrin battled with Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter (the current world cup slalom leader) in the second run, falling behind for half of it. But in the final gates, the American teenager took a straighter line, never lost her composure and pulled ahead.
“This win is different,” said the Olympic slalom champion. “I can’t really explain it. It’s a tough hill, a tough race. There are a lot of really fast racers, and I’m glad to walk away with this one and do it at home in the last 10 gates.”
Although Austria won the medal count (nine medals in 11 races), the American fans who filled the Red Tail Stadium every day cheered for each U.S. skier as if he or she were winning the race.
Vail-Beaver Creek organizing committee chief Ceil Folz estimated that over 200,000 fans watched events and ceremonies during the 10-day event — almost three times as many as watching the Super Bowl in the University of Phoenix stadium this year. (And just like at football games, the fans at Vail and Beaver Creek were encouraged by shiny pompom-wielding cheerleaders recruited to help make skiing more understandable to the general public.)
"It's really special to win this medal in front of the home crowd, and that's why it's going to be close to my heart for the rest of my career,” Shiffrin said of her slalom gold. “To have the opportunity during my career to go to world championships in my hometown, and to actually win a medal, and it's history, that's pretty cool."
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.