Editor’s note: Hank McKee, an award-winning journalist at Ski Racing for 36 years, died unexpectedly on Nov. 5, 2016. He penned this column prior to his passing, and it is now being published posthumously. Look for a full tribute to our dear friend coming soon on SkiRacing.com.
The countdown is on. Vonn could reset the record for most career wins. Once thought unassailable, Ingemar Stenmark’s record 86 victories is in definite jeopardy. She needs 10 more top steps on the podium in order to tie him, which is no sure thing. Vonn has surpassed 10 wins a season twice, five seasons ago and seven seasons ago. Last year she posted nine wins. In 2015, it was eight.
A World Cup season is a long and grueling odyssey. The Speed Queen has announced a concentration on the record, skipping the Soelden GS and other early season tech races in order to focus on super-G and downhill. If she holds to that plan, then she’s limited by the calendar to eight downhills plus seven super-Gs this winter, for a total of 15 races. Add the two alpine combined races, and she has a maximum of 17 starts to claim 11 more wins and ice the record. That scenario demands total domination over months. Stay tuned.
Another season-long attack that could end in a record is Marcel Hirscher’s attempt to add a sixth straight overall title to his collection. That would break his current tie with Marc Girardelli for five grand titles and match Annemarie Moser-Proell’s six, noting neither of the challengers got their totals in consecutive seasons.
It should be quite a year for Hirscher. With his first victory this season, he’ll match Pirmin Zurbriggen’s fifth best all-time 40 wins. Any title at all will raise him to 12 in total, matching Aksel Lund Svindal. Zurbriggen’s 16 and Girardelli’s 15, Hermann Maier’s 14 and Ingemar Stenmark’s 19 are all still out front of him, but this is rarified air he breathes and a mighty strong collection of trophies already produced.
As we have become accustomed to, I expect Svindal will likely rule the men’s speed events and Hirscher the gate races.
Svindal won the downhill title in 2013 and 2014, and the super-G crown in 2006, 2009, 2012, 2013, and 2014. The World Cup overall leader at any given time is likely to be determined by which discipline was last contested, switching back and forth between the two.
Though let us not shortchange Henrik Kristoffersen or Ted Ligety. The young Norwegian gained notoriety by winning six slaloms last season to claim the discipline title. Should he get the slalom crown again he would be the first Norwegian to win two, and the second man in this century to win the slalom title in back-to-back years. Frankly, should he be able to duplicate his wins last season at Madonna di Campiglio, Adelboden, Wengen, Kitzbuehel… at Schladming, he could join legend status as far as we’re concerned.
Alexis Pinturault kicked off this season with the Soelden victory, giving him 16 total wins. He is fast closing in on the French record of 18 from the great Jean-Claude Killy.
German men haven’t claimed a World Cup title in any discipline since the 1989-90 season. All-time race winner for German men, with 12, is Felix Neureuther who clearly has the talent to claim a crown.
But enough of all this. Let’s talk about us.
‘Nuff said: Vonn.
Ted Ligety’s 2015-16 season was derailed by injury, but with 24 GS wins to his name he ranks second in the discipline, only to Stenmark. He has five GS globes on his trophy shelf, so he knows what it takes. Don’t bet against him.
Mikaela Shiffrin has three straight slalom wins from last season and needs eight more to upgrade Vreni Schneider’s record of 10 straight from 1993-94. That’s a lot of slalom to string together, but we haven’t seen anybody like Shiffrin in a very long time – if ever.
It would be no surprise here should Shiffrin establish a record margin of victory in slalom. She made the top five on three occasions last season.
Lastly, nothing the U.S. men’s speed group could accomplish would be a big surprise to me, meaning the sky is the limit. As a whole the entire group is built for the long haul. They live on the road and do it well. They seem to thrive on winter weather, and the margins thereof. They are now seasoned and strong as all get out. Three guys on the podium last season and four with top-10 finishes. They are primed for a blowout year. Go ahead, boys, try to surprise us.
Cover image © Agence Zoom