May 26, 2016

The Switch to Speed on the 2015-16 World Cup

Hank McKee – Senior Editor

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As promised earlier this month, my recap of the roller coaster 2015-16 World Cup season now switches to speed. Careful of whiplash as we dial back to Thanksgiving.

Prior to this season, Aksel Lund Svindal already had a great relationship with Lake Louise. That was solidified in November when he won both the downhill and super-G and took the early World Cup lead. Significantly, the American Downhillers were in the hunt. Travis Ganong was third and fourth, Steven Nyman was 16th and 21st and Andrew Weibrecht posted 24th and 26th. Not enough to turn heads, perhaps, but enough to prove competitiveness.

Svindal continued by winning his third race in a row at Beaver Creek with the downhill victory. Defending World Cup champ Marcel Hirscher got the super-G win after the start was lowered by weather. It was his first super-G in 32 World Cup wins.

Lindsey Vonn, having absolutely owned Lake Louise in the past, added her 16th, 17th and 18th victories at the site leading a potent U.S. team that pushed five skiers into the points in both downhills and four in the super-G. It was the 70th World Cup win for Vonn and gave her to a four-point edge over teammate Mikaela Shiffrin for the overall crown. The Americans – as predicted – sat one-two.

The men moved on to Val Gardena, a site of anticipation for the U.S. men as they had performed well at the site in the past. The team even had the defending champion in Nyman. This time around it was all Norway as Svindal led a sweep with Kjetil Jansrud in second and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde – recently elevated to the first seed – third. Weibrecht was fifth leading four Americans into the points.

Svindal continued his win streak in the downhill giving him five wins in seven races, a 110-point lead in the downhill standings and a 77-point margin in the overall. The Americans did just fine thanks to a surprising performance from Bryce Bennett charging from 57th to sixth. Nyman posted ninth.

The speed ladies had followed the tech men into Val d’Isere, France, which looked like a road paved especially for Vonn. She had won the two previous combined races at the site and had four World Cup downhill wins plus World Championship gold from there in 2009. But it was Lara Gut who came out big winning both the combined and the downhill. Vonn was second in the combined, and posted a DNF in the downhill. Her overall lead was cut to two points, and Fabienne Suter tied her for the lead of the downhill standings.

During the holiday week, between Christmas and New Year’s, the men went north to a downhill at Santa Caterina.

Although Travis Ganong had won at the site a season earlier, the Americans couldn’t get untracked. The win went to Adrien Theaux, the first French victory of the season. It was a double podium for the French with David Poisson in third. Hannes Reichelt was second. Ben Thompson got into the top 10 for Canada while Ganong led the Americans with a 17th-place finish.

Zauchensee was picked to replace St. Anton for the women, where, again, lack of snow was an issue. Zauchensee responded with a two-run “sprint” downhill, which Vonn won by exactly a second over Canadian independent Larisa Yurkiw. Vonn matched Annemarie Moser-Proell’s 26-year-old record 36th downhill win.

Maybe the significance of breaking that record provided additional inspiration, or maybe she was just on a roll, but Vonn took the super-G too, pretty comfortably by seven-tenths, shutting down Gut and Cornelia Huetter for her 73rd career win, fluttering ever closer to Stenmark’s all-time – once so far out there – record of 86 World Cup victories.

By now it was January, the heart of the schedule, classic stop after classic stop.

The 86th annual Lauberhorn opened in Wengen with the event which traditionally closed the Swiss hallmark event, the combined. The whole weekend, a Swiss party by any definition became a Norwegian celebration when Kjetil Jansrud won the combined, Aksel Lund Svindal the downhill and Henrik Kristoffersen the slalom, the first national sweep since 1998. Svindal regained the overall lead.

Then it was on to Kitzbuehel for the Austrian hallmark event, the infamous Hahnenkamm. Svindal opened with the super-G win, his seventh triumph of the season, by 0.31 over Andrew Weibrecht’s career-best, second-place finish. Hannes Reichelt was third on the day with the race serving as the first half of a combined.

In the combined, the French took over led by Pinturault and followed by the doubly named Muffat-Jeandet and Mermillod-Blondin. Bennett tucked into ninth place, a fabulous result considering the 92 starters, and junior competitor Drew Duffy scored his first World Cup points.

The danger of Kitzbuehel is well documented. That danger is what makes it attractive to so many competitors and spectators alike. This year was no exception. The downhill was stopped after 30 competitors were down, two of them more down than others. Georg Streitberger and tour leader Svindal were down and out for the season, caught in flat light and an unseeable compression that resulted in slides into the safety nets. Italian Peter Fill got the win with Swiss Beat Feuz in second and teammate Carlo Janka third, a slap to Austrian pride already reeling from a lack of downhill victories.

At Cortina d’Ampezzo, in the women’s highlight of the downhill season Vonn collected her fifth discipline victory at the site just overriding the upset minded Larisa Yurkiw. Gut notched third to maintain the overall tour lead by a scant 10 points while Vonn strengthened her hold on the downhill crown to a 122-point margin. Vonn also won the super-G by an impressive 0.69 of a second. Only Tina Weirather was within a second of her time. Stacey Cook in eighth was second in a list of five scoring Americans including Anna Marno collecting her first World Cup point.

The men paid a visit to Garmisch for the Kandahar single downhill. With Svindal out for the season, Norwegian youngster Kilde took it upon himself to fill the void, collecting the win in a very close race. With training cut short by weather problems and the anticipation of a race day slowly getting warmer with precipitation, the racers instead found a course that had set-up beautifully overnight. Then the warming never happened, which opened the door for the late runners, including Kilde, who started 30th.

The entire top 30 finished within two seconds of the leader, and some unusual names worked into the big points. Bostjan Kline scored his first podium with the best Slovene downhill result for the men since 2012. It was a decent race for the North Americans: Ganong was sixth, Nyman 10th, Thompson 12th, Weibrecht 17th, Goldberg 20th, Manuel Osborne-Paradis 21st, and Wiley Maple 23rd.

The men put on their traveling shoes for flights to Korea to test the Olympic track. The new track at Jeongseon, non-creatively named the Jeongseon Downhill, took away any advantage of experience since no one in the field had any. Jansrud got the win on behalf of the injured Svindal with Dominik Paris in second and Nyman stepping it up for the 18th U.S. podium of the season.

The super-G went to Carlo Janka, who must have nailed inspection. He won by 0.82 over Christof Innerhofer with Vince Kriechmayr in third. Kilde was fourth, and in a telling sidenote Hirscher tallied seventh – his fourth-best super-G result ever but third best of the season with better yet to come. Maple recorded his career-best super-G result in 24th.

The speed men headed into Chamonix for the Kandahar combined, extending a history that started in 1928. Local skier Blaise Giezendanner reminded everyone how critical it is to really know the track. Starting 39th he charged into 10th, turning more than a few heads along the way. It was Pinturault, however, with the win, cementing his place atop the combined standings. Paris was second and Mermillod-Blondin third.

Goldberg made the top 20 and Bennett picked up the fifth score of his career and season. The top of the overall standings didn’t change as none of the top three participated for the weekend.

Paris won the downhill, his fifth career win, with Nyman flexing new found speed and confidence for second. The Canadians pushed two into the top 10 with Osborne-Paradis seventh and Erik Guay eighth.

With the men in Chamonix, the women stopped in La Thuile, Italy, for the weekend.

Nadia Fanchini edged Vonn for the win, just her second victory ever and her first in eight years. Danielle Merighetti gave the homestanding Italians two on the podium, but the North Americans showed strongly with Yurkiw fourth, Laurene Ross fifth and Alice McKennis 11th.

It was Weirather, Gut and Vonn in that order in the super-G. Ross again made the top 10 in ninth. Vonn’s lead of the overall shrunk to 23 points and in super-G standings to 79.

In a heavy, thick-flake snowstorm at Soldeu-El Tarer, Andorra, Vonn crashed in the midst of leading the opening super-G and left the course on a sled. Early start numbers had a clear advantage despite a three-hour delay. Brignone got the win, but stepping to the plate was Ross, collecting her first career super-G podium in second.

With X-ray images revealing a hairline fracture in the left knee, Vonn showed more guts than smarts and raced the next day in a combined to gain 20 points on Gut for the overall. Shiffrin, in her early return, skied to 40th in the speed race and then closed dramatically to eighth with a blistering slalom leg. The joy of the day, though, was the victory of Marie-Michele Gagnon, producing the first Canadian win in a year. Teammate Candace Crawford also made the top 10, highlighting her third career scoring finish and second of the weekend.

Kvitfjell was limited to its routinely scheduled downhill and super-G, seemingly a boost for a Norwegian squad that had felt its oats all season. Even without Svindal, the team still put two among the fastest three in both training runs. But come race day it was Paris leading Italy to the win with Valentine Giraud Moine of France gaining his first career podium in second and Nyman third for his third podium in three straight downhills. Osborne-Paradis was fourth before Jansrud got the homestanding Norwegians their best placing. Travis Ganong was eighth.

American Marco Sullivan completed his 167th World Cup race after 15 years on the circuit and announced his retirement, leaving a stinging void with teammates.

Jansrud rebounded for the super-G win, moving past Svindal to become top seasonal point-getter for the Vikings. Without racing, Hirscher’s overall lead sat post race at 353 points with just finals remaining. He could stop sweating out a big run at his lead.

Weibrecht was fifth, matching his third best career placing. Ganong scored his sixth best career super-G finish and Nyman his fourth best. It was late in the year, but the U.S. boys were finally firing on all cylinders.

A couple of Austrian women may have come of age in Lenzerheide, with Huetter collecting her first career win and roommate Tamara Tippler her third podium in the super-G at the Swiss resort. Finishing between them was Swiss Fabienne Suter. Gut was fifth, extending her overall lead and moving within 19 points of Vonn’s lead in super G. With one race remaining at finals, the women’s super-G crown could go to any of four women.

Wendy Holdener added her second career win (the first in the Stockholm city event) in the combined, a make-up from Crans-Montana in February. Gagnon was fifth and Ross seventh.

 

FINALS

World Cup Finals at St. Moritz, host of next year’s World Championships, opened with the downhills.

Four men were within reach of the coveted downhill title. Fill finished 1.36 seconds behind winner Feuz, but still 26 points ahead of Svindal for the first Italian men’s downhill title ever.

In second, just 0.08 behind Feuz, was Nyman for a U.S. record four straight World Cup downhill podiums. His fast finish brought him to sixth in the downhill standings for the season. Guay was third, his only podium of the season, and Travis Ganong was sixth.

Mirjam Puchner won the women’s downhill race, her first World Cup victory. Fabienne Suter was second, and even though on the sideline, Vonn collected the small globe by 23 points.

Women’s super-G finals was a hard-fought battle.

Weirather won the final super G race, her second win of the season. But Gut was second and Huetter third. Gut edged out her Liechtenstein neighbor by 45 points to claim the title. Vonn got third in those standings, a tight 20 points ahead of Huetter. Ross earned her 10th top-five finish and fifth of the season.

Feuz got the men’s super-G win, continuing a strong late-season surge that started in Kitzbuehel and wrapped with two wins at finals. The Norwegians upheld pride with Kilde in second and Jansrud third, resulting in a standings sweep with Kilde the title winner, Jansrud second by 40 points and Svindal third, 105 back.

Thomas Fanara got the final GS win with Pinturault second and Faivre third for the second French sweep of the season. The title though, belonged to Hirscher, his third, as did the overall crown, his fifth.

Andre Myhrer got the final slalom win as Hirscher started a new podium string in second and Sebastian Foss-Solevaag became the fifth Norwegian male to podium on the season in third. Kristoffersen won the slalom globe by 31 points, the second Norwegian to take one after Kjetil-Andre Aamodt back in 2000.

Shiffrin clocked in the final slalom win with her fourth two-second margin of the season. Velez Zuzulova was second on the day and Hansdotter third.

From the end of December on, Viktoria Rebensburg had placed better than Eva-Maria Brem in every GS but Jasna, but the latter had stayed close enough each race to maintain the lead of the GS standings.

In the final race of the season, Rebensburg took the win and hoped for the best. Brem finished fourth and won the title by two points. In three months and four races, she had given up a narrow 30 points.

Whew, made it. A spectacular season full of surprise and superior ski racing. We can look forward to the 50th anniversary season in 2017 knowing the athletes of the World Cup will provide the thrills the backdrop of the world’s winter wonderlands deserve.

As for the Americans, seven athletes scored their first World Cup points: Tim Kelley, Anna Marno, Drew Duffy, Michael Ankeny, Lila Lapanja and Paula Moltzan.

Nine registered 10 or more scores: David Chodounsky, Stacey Cook, Travis Ganong, Steven Nyman, Laurenne Ross, Mikaela Shiffrin, Resi Stiegler, Lindsay Vonn, and Andrew Weibrecht.

All told, the U.S. collected 29 podiums from seven athletes and 15 wins from three athletes. Not quite best in the world, but not too shabby, either.

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