Courtesy of the U.S. Ski Team
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October 26, 2008 — Three American ski racers, including Vail’s Lindsey Vonn, successfully kicked off the defense of their discipline and overall World Cup titles over the weekend as the White Circus got under way in Soelden, Austria.
The men’s and women’s overall champions from last season, Vonn and New Hampshire’s Bode Miller, both placed in the top 10 in the giant slalom openers Saturday and Sunday, and Ted Ligety, who won the GS discipline title last season, finished third.
“It's nice to get a good result right off the bat, especially here in Soelden because it's the first race of the year and you don't really know how fast you're actually skiing,” Ligety said. “You get on the race course against the rest of the world and it's good to see how you are against them so it's nice to get on the podium here.”
Two Swiss racers, Daniel Albrecht and Didier Cuche, finished first and second, and Miller was 10th. Ligety, the 24-year-old from Park City, Utah, who won a gold medal in the combined at the 2006 Winter Olympics, said he fully expects to contend for the season titles in both GS and slalom.
“My main goal is to defend the GS title -- that’s always tough to do when you’re leading -- but if I ski well and stick to the plan I had last year, I can do it,” Ligety said, “and then trying to take on the slalom title as well and just try in be in a place at the end of the year where I can compete.”
Ligety had hand surgery after tearing a ligament in his right thumb while winning the GS title at the World Cup Finals in Bormio, Italy, in March. He rehabbed in Vail and said he’s back to full speed for this season. He and Miller will also race during the only men’s World Cup stop in the United States this season, Dec. 4-7 at Beaver Creek.
Vonn, the 24-year-old Ski Club Vail product who won six World Cup races last season en route to his first overall title (and only the seventh ever for an American), was 9th in Saturday’s GS won by Kathrin Zettel of Austria. It was only the ninth time Vonn, a speed merchant by trade, has scored points in GS, according to Ski Racing Magazine.
“I think that was definitely a solid start to the season,” Vonn said Saturday. “I think I could have done a lot better, and I had some trouble in the speed section of both runs, but, I skied well in the lower section and I had the speed there to kick it into fifth gear and I hope to continue to improve going into Aspen [Nov. 29-30].” That’s the only U.S. stop for the women’s tour this season.
Vonn said in an interview over the summer that she expects to be even stronger this season, an amazing statement given the incredible run she enjoyed in 2007-08. But heading into last season she said she wasn’t able to really start working out until July because of knee surgery the previous March. This off-season she started training hard in May.
“This year is a whole new ballgame, which makes me that much more excited because I’ll be that much stronger,” Vonn said. “I feel like you always have to keep striving to get better and be faster and stronger. I always look to men’s skiing and the biggest difference between men’s skiing and women’s isn’t technique, it’s strength.”
All-time American great Phil Mahre, who won three straight overall titles in the early 1980s, said Vonn’s roots as a tech skier (GS and slalom) in the Mid-West (she grew up in Minnesota before moving to Vail) gave way to her greatness in speed events, which makes her a perennial overall threat.
“She was a tech skier and has continued to work hard on all aspects of her skiing,” Mahre said. “It will be interesting to see how she holds up to the pressure that comes with being the reigning overall winner this season.”
Miller, who races independent of the U.S. Ski Team, is reportedly bigger and stronger this season and should be in the hunt for his third overall title, which would match Mahre’s American mark.
Julia Mancuso, the 2006 Olympic gold medalist in GS, was 17th Saturday, and Vail’s Sarah Schleper, who’s returning to the circuit after taking time off to have a baby, failed to qualify for a second run.
Women’s GS, Saturday, Soelden, Austria
1. Kathrin Zettel, Austria, 2:22.99
2. Tanja Poutiainen, Finland, 2:23.97
3. Andrea Fischbacher, Austria, 2:24.47
4. Denise Karbon, Italy, 2:24.50
5. Lara Gut, Switzerland, 2:24.53
6. Maria Pietilae-Holmner, Sweden, 2:24.56
7. Anja Paerson, Sweden, 2:24.57
8. Kathrin Hoelzl, Germany, 2:24.84
9. Lindsey Vonn, Vail, CO, 2:25.16
10. Chemmy Alcott, Great Britain, 2:25.41
Men’s GS, Sunday, Soelden, Austria
1. Daniel Albrecht, Switzerland, 2:15.78
2. Didier Cuche, Switzerland, 2:15.92
3. Ted Ligety, Park City, UT, 2:17.03
4. Benjamin Raich, Austria, 2:17.08
5. Thomas Fanara, France, 2:17.22
6. Christoph Gruber, Austria, 2:17.25
7. Romed Baumann, Austria, 2:17.34
8. Pilipp Schoerghofer, Austria, 2:17.35
9. Carlo Janka, Switzerland, 2:17.36
10. Bode Miller, Bretton Woods, NH, 2:17.37
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