BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – On Saturday, Lara Gut of Switzerland won her second race in two days, adding a super-G triumph to her victory in Friday’s downhill. Meanwhile, the U.S. women’s speed team faced its second consecutive day of disappointment. Leanne Smith was the top American finisher on Saturday, placing 23rd on the 2015 world championship super-G course. On Friday, no American fared better than 19th in the downhill.
“As a group, we are better than this,” said Stacey Cook, who led the U.S. downhill effort and was the second-best American in the super-G (28th place).
Cook said the sub-par performances were no cause for alarm, and was confident that the team would return to form.
“Sucking is not part of the plan,” Cook said with a laugh. “We’ll be bummed [tonight] and there are 30 minutes where we all want to yell at everyone, but after those 30 minutes, that’s it. We have to believe in our ability.”
“We will start bringing those results like we did last year,” Cook added, referring to a remarkable run where five American women earned podiums in downhill (the discipline closest to super-G).
Smith, like Cook, was one of the Americans who earned a podium last season in downhill, and on Saturday, the 26-year-old New Hampshire native did not attribute her sub-par result to the newness of the course (it was the first women’s super-G ever to be held on Raptor), or the lighting, which went from blinding sunshine to huge shadows that eclipsed tricky terrain changes.
“I overskied,” Smith said. “I was giving a lot of turns too much respect. The snow was really grippy and responsive, and super-G is all about pinning the line.”
Meanwhile, Gut, the 22-year-old Swiss, has now won three of the four world cup races this season (in three different disciplines), and appears to be filling the temporary void left by American Lindsey Vonn who has been sidelined since February and is hoping to return next weekend in Lake Louise, Canada.
Racing or not, Vonn has raised expectations for the whole team.
“Lindsey’s really spoiled the American fans with her ability to be on top [every weekend] — which is so not normal,” Cook said. It’s “superhuman.”
Vonn is the second-winningest female ski racer of all time. She had 59 world cup victories before tearing two ligaments in her right knee and fracturing her tibial plateau in a super-G crash at the 2013 world championships in February. She hasn’t raced since.
Vonn was hoping to return in Beaver Creek, but on Nov. 19, she partially tore the anterior cruciate ligament of the same knee while training in nearby Copper Mountain. Yet on Friday, she was not only skiing — but training super-G gates again.
On Saturday, Vonn’s orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Bill Sterett, was in the finish corral, but he would not comment on Vonn’s condition.
Also mum was Julia Mancuso, a three-time Olympic medalist and five-time world championship medalist who placed 29th on Saturday’s super-G, and 20th in Friday’s downhill. Before Mancuso left the finish area, however, she did confide in a U.S. Ski Team spokesman that her super-G result hurt more than her sub-par performance in the downhill.
“We’re going to take this defeat and turn it into motivation,” said Laurenne Ross, who finished 31st in Saturday’s super-G.
But first, there is one more women’s race at Beaver Creek, a giant slalom on Sunday featuring Mancuso (the 2006 Olympic gold medal in GS) and 18-year-old U.S. superstar Mikaela Shiffrin, who won the only race this season that Gut sat out: a slalom in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 16.
Aimee Berg 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.