Olympics: Alpine Skiing

Mikaela Shiffrin moved to tears after message from young cancer patient

October, 13, 2014

After winning her first World Cup race in December of 2012, American skiing sensation Mikaela Shiffrin met 11-year old Emma Lundell of Sweden, a young fan who was battling leukemia. The two posed for a picture together and Shiffrin wrote about the experience on her Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Now, almost two years later, Lundell is finished with her chemotherapy treatments. With some help from Swedish site SPORT-Expressen, Lundell made a video message for Shiffrin, updating her on her health. Shiffrin’s reaction is priceless.

Is it just me or does everything suddenly feel right in this world?

Read more on Shiffrin and other top female athletes at espnW.com.

Four days, two women, one trophy. If this were a movie script, it might have been sent back for tweaks because it's a little too perfect, especially since Lindsey Vonn and Maria Riesch also happen to be good friends.

The forecast in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, is for warm temperatures and hot competition in the women's Alpine skiing World Cup final. Germany's Riesch and the United States' Vonn go at it in the downhill event Wednesday, the super-G Thursday, the slalom Friday and the giant slalom Saturday for all the marbles. Riesch leads Vonn by a scant 23 points in a series where wins count for 100.

[+] EnlargeMaria Riesch, Lindsey Vonn
Clive Mason/Getty ImagesMaria Riesch, left, leads Lindsey Vonn by just 23 points heading into this weekend's World Cup events.

What's actually at stake is the big crystal globe awarded to the best overall skier on the circuit. If Vonn wins, it would be her fourth straight and perhaps hardest to achieve. If Riesch hangs on, she would become the first German woman to capture the championship in 13 years and the third in history.

Over the past two weeks, Vonn has clinched season titles in the combined, downhill and super-G events and steadily whittled away at Riesch's lead. Her stock is on the uptick, a trend underscored by the rivals' results last weekend in the technical events. Instead, the woman who has won more World Cup races than any other American skier, male or female, reached the GS podium for the first time in her career, finishing third; meanwhile, Riesch DNFed on the second run of the slalom.

Vonn declared she is where she wants to be after racing from behind all season, and she wouldn't be there without having taken some chances. She embraces both the great performances and the mishaps on her Facebook page and Twitter feed, posting videos of her crashes and, just last week, a photo of a little unwanted facial color.

Her decision to race the downhill at the World Championships shortly after sustaining what was described as a mild concussion has been questioned, and rightly so given our ever-increasing knowledge about the potential consequences of those risks. But no one can doubt the passion Vonn brought to the circuit this season even after checking off the lifetime goal of winning an Olympic gold medal a little more than a year ago in Vancouver.

The men's competition will be somewhat of an afterthought. Croatia's Ivica Kostelic built a Secretariat-like lead to clinch the overall crown last weekend. Giant slalom specialist Ted Ligety of the U.S. will try to keep his grip on a 77-point lead over Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal (Cyprien Richard of France is just another three points shy in third) to win his third season title in the discipline.

Bode Miller in sixth at super-combined

January, 14, 2011

WENGEN, Switzerland -- Ivica Kostelic won a World Cup super-combined event Friday to extend his lead in the overall standings with a third victory in 12 days. Bode Miller was the top American in sixth place.

Kostelic dominated the afternoon slalom run, after placing sixth in the downhill, for a combined two-leg time of 2 minutes 40.44 seconds. Carlo Janka of Switzerland was second, 0.58 seconds back. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway was third.

American Ted Ligety used the second-best slalom run to place ninth.

(Read full post)

Ligety sixth; Vonn solid in training run

January, 6, 2011

A recap of Thursday's World Cup action:

Men's slalom: Ligety finishes sixth

ZAGREB, Croatia -- Andre Myhrer of Sweden won a World Cup night slalom race on Thursday for his second career title, four years after capturing his first.

The Olympic bronze medalist, who was fourth after the opening run, finished on the icy Crveni Spust course in a combined time of 1 minute, 52.74 seconds. Ivica Kostelic of Croatia was 0.10 seconds behind to finish second in his home race for the third time in four years.

(Read full post)

Interview with skier Will Gregorak

November, 12, 2010

ESPN.com's Bonnie D. Ford recently caught up with Will Gregorak, who talked about what it's like being one of the new skiers on the slopes for the U.S. team and what he expects from himself in the giant slalom this season.

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VAIL, Colo. -- The town square in this manicured resort was dark by the time Lindsey Vonn stopped signing autographs Saturday evening. Her teammates in their identical purple plaid jackets had gradually drifted away after a long day of training and media interviews, but Vonn, still looking relaxed and fresh, kept scrawling away on hats, jackets, skis, anything offered to her. She lives just steps away and you could feel an almost palpable sense that she didn't want to let anyone down.

[Podcast: Vonn talks with Bonnie Ford about staying motivated ... and cheese. ]

Disappointment has largely disappeared from Vonn's vocabulary in the past three years, and she'd like to keep it that way. A three-time defending World Cup overall champion and double world championship gold medalist in speed events, Vonn survived injury and intensely high expectations to win a downhill gold and a bronze medal in the super-G at the Vancouver Olympics.

A veteran at 26, Vonn's next quest is to be more versatile. She is committed to competing through the 2014 Sochi Games and wants to improve her performance in the technical events. Of Vonn's 33 career wins on the World Cup circuit, only two have come from slalom and three from the combined event; giant slalom remains her last unconquered frontier. She focused on slalom and giant slalom in training this summer -- "I've always struggled with those two events," she said -- and tweaked her diet this fall, eliminating rice, pasta, bread and dairy products.

Maintaining dominance and expanding a skill set can be a tricky equation for an athlete, but "It's definitely possible," Vonn said. Her motivational example is a role model who has become a friend, Roger Federer. She witnessed him complete his career Slam at the 2009 French Open -- the first match at that level she'd seen in person -- and spent quality time with him before this year's U.S. Open.

VAIL, Colo. -- Bode Miller moves like a big cat and has had the appropriate number of lives. The fact he's back to race in 2010-11, emerging for an encore after one of the most dramatic seasons of a dramatic career, shouldn't be surprising to anyone who has paid attention to him for the past 12 years.

Miller, unimpressed by authority and indifferent toward the trappings of athletic success, is now an elder statesman on a powerhouse squad, a two-time overall World Cup champion and the most decorated American Olympian in his sport. He rebuilt his burned bridges with the U.S. Ski Team last year and both parties have benefitted. Miller wiped out the memories of his desultory 2006 performance by winning gold (super combined), silver (super-G) and bronze (downhill) medals in Vancouver -- to add to the two silvers he won in Salt Lake City -- and actually appeared to enjoy the journey as well as the destination. The team got additional hardware via a unique, occasionally maddening and always fascinating personality.

But Miller is not, to paraphrase a line from "Bull Durham" protagonist Crash Davis, one to hit his dinger and hang up his boots and bindings. The one consistent thread in his abstract tapestry -- aside from talent -- is his stubborn refusal to proceed along what most people would consider a normal narrative arc. His fourth Olympics might have seemed like the perfect happy ending, but the notion of quitting while he was ahead would be foreign to Miller, who doesn't keep score the way the rest of the world does. He's remarkably sound for 33, he still loves racing, he likes the staff and his young teammates, no one barks at him any more about sleeping in an RV instead of the team hotel, so why shouldn't he keep going?

Miller has become increasingly impatient with attempts to analyze his motives over the years. He kept his enormous ink-black goggles on while he spoke to a small group of reporters after training Saturday morning and parried most inquiries about his competitive psyche by making broad generalizations about an insatiable media. He looked far more at ease interacting with kids in an autograph line later that day, offering a word or a smile or bending down for a snapshot with each one.

Conquest has never been what drives Miller, even though he's mastered his share of courses, so perhaps we should take his cue and stop asking what more he desires to accomplish. Still, his old friend Mike Day -- appointed head men's coach for the technical events, slalom and giant slalom, last spring -- ventured to say that Miller might want to show he can still excel in the races in which he first made his mark on the world scene.

Day, a former student and coach at Miller's alma mater, Carrabassett Valley Academy in Maine, first met Miller when the skier was 17. He said Miller's trademark high-risk style has evolved over the years to a still-aggressive but more tactical approach. "He's skiing in a fashion where he's within himself," Day said.

That may convey serenity, but Miller is constantly in motion, shifting his weight on skis, shifting from foot to foot during an interview, shifting his thoughts toward the next problem to solve, whether it's his equipment or his environment.

"[Ski racing] wasn't fun before, a couple times, and I've changed it and made the adaptations I needed to do to keep myself really excited and fired up about it," he said. "That gets more and more difficult as you run out of things to change or you've done what there is to do."

How has such a restless soul managed to stick around this long? The secret may be as simple as this: He's still interested.

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