Lindsey Vonn reacts after crossing the finish of the women's giant slalom in Red Tail Stadium at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships on Feb. 12, 2015 in Beaver Creek, Colo.
The storylines surrounding the U.S. Ski Team this season have often involved injuries and comebacks, and that is still the case as the 2017 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships open in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Decorated veterans such as Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso look to continue their comebacks, while Ted Ligety and Steven Nyman have already seen their seasons end due to injury.
Of the 23 U.S. athletes named to the team that will compete over the next two weeks, however, one big name who has dominated all season is Mikaela Shiffrin, who will look to make history in the slalom and giant slalom during the second week of competition.
Here’s a look at some of the top U.S. storylines to follow at this year’s world championships.
Will Mikaela Shiffrin become the first American woman to win three straight world gold medals?
Shiffrin, the 2014 Olympic slalom champion, leads the world cup overall standings and has 11 world cup wins in the last year, and now she has her sights on a third consecutive slalom world title. She’ll race in the slalom and giant slalom, and if she wins both she’ll become the first woman in 20 years to sweep the two events at the world championships. In addition to leading the overall standings, Shiffrin is first in the slalom and second in giant slalom.
Healthy again, Lindsey Vonn looks to add to her medal collection
Already the winningest woman in world cup history, Vonn just returned to competition in mid-January following extensive injuries. In Switzerland the six-time world medalist will compete in the super-G, super combined and downhill, with downhill and super-G representing her best chances to reach the podium. Vonn won a downhill event in just her second race back after missing nearly a year with injuries, including the broken right arm suffered in a training crash in November, but the 32-year-old also crashed twice the last weekend in January racing in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
Can downhiller Travis Ganong carry the torch for the injury-depleted American men?
Ganong is one of just five American racers to reach the podium in a world cup race this season, and his victory racing in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, at the end of January was the first win by a U.S. man in any world cup discipline since Oct. 15, 2015. Fellow downhiller Steven Nyman is the only other U.S. man to reach the podium this year and has been the stronger racer of the two since Sochi, but a knee injury suffered the same weekend Ganong won ended Nyman’s season. Ganong, who earned silver at the 2015 world championships in downhill, is ranked sixth in the downhill standings and now represents the United States’ best chances for a medal in the men’s events. Bode Miller is not racing this season and Ted Ligety underwent season-ending back surgery in mid-January, leaving the United States with no other men expected to compete among the upper echelon of racers. Andrew Weibrecht, however, is a dark horse. Weibrecht medaled at each of the past two Olympics, but only began medaling on the world cup circuit last season.
Can Julia Mancuso rebound after a long recovery?
Mancuso sat out the 2015-16 season after undergoing hip surgery and just recently got back on skis racing for the first time since March 2015. Between the Olympic Winter Games and world championships, she’s won nine medals, but jumping back into competition after a long layoff is never easy, especially mid-season. She was 49th in the first downhill training run in Cortina d’Ampezzo and 47th in the second training run and has yet to race. This is the eighth time Mancuso has been named to a world championship roster.
Jackie Wiles is looking up in the downhill
On the same day that Vonn returned to racing, another American woman reached the world cup podium for the first time ever. Wiles, 24, was third overall in the downhill at Altenmarkt-Zauchensee. Her previous best result in the downhill was 15th in 2014. Wiles was just 21 when she went to the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014, and she joins Vonn, Shiffrin, Ganong and Nyman as the only U.S. skiers to reach the podium this season.
Breezy Johnson, Team USA’s youngest skier, is one of five debutants
Another woman looking to make her mark will be Johnson, who is technically on the U.S. “B” team. The 21-year-old is the only woman on the team making her world championships debut (compared to four men who are first-timers), and the downhiller has finished in the top 30 in every race she’s entered, topping at 10th in the downhill in Cortina d’Ampezzo. She’s also the youngest on the team, man or woman.