Sunday, March 16, 2014
5 things to know about the Alpine World Cup season
LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland -- The international season in Alpine skiing ended Sunday with the final races of the five-month World Cup campaign.
Even in an Olympic year, the World Cup is the purest test for racers, and the giant crystal globes awarded to overall winners are the sport's most prestigious honors.
However, the tour shares the spotlight in 2015 with the world championships, hosted Feb. 2-15 at Vail-Beaver Creek, Colorado.
Here are five things to know about Alpine skiing today:
AUSTRIA RULES: The Wunderteam was wonderful, winning the three biggest prizes.
Marcel Hirscher's third overall title was predicted, but the others were breakout bonuses.
Anna Fenninger stepped up from fifth and third previously to take her first overall title at age 24. She was helped by season-ending injuries to Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany and Liechtenstein's Tina Weirather, who had led the standings.
"You couldn't think about this before the season," team director Hans Pum said of Austria's first title double since 2002.
At the Olympics, Austria regained the men's downhill through 23-year-old Matthias Mayer, who added a second career win at Lenzerheide.
BELIEVE IN U.S.: The American outlook is also good as the United States prepares to host its first world championships in 16 years.
Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin are undisputed leaders in men's giant slalom and women's slalom. They're both Olympic and world champions, and multiple World Cup title winners.
Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn remain the sport's most watchable stars, and can win any speed race they start. Both expect to be ready for Vail-Beaver Creek.
Men's head coach Sasha Rearick has the top-level coaching staff he wants: "Everybody on the team pulls the rope in the same direction." Post-Olympics, he hopes to bolster a program which already developed Travis Ganong, and includes Jared Goldberg and Ryan Cochran-Siegle next in line.
First, recovery time is needed after the 2013 worlds and Sochi. "We hammered hard going into Schladming and the Olympics," Rearick said.
PRIZE MONEY: Hirscher was the biggest winner in World Cup prize money.
Five victories and a bunch of podium finishes earned him $396,000 from race organizers -- about the same as a good golf tournament win for five months' work.
Ligety's five wins but fewer podiums got him $330,000, and Bode Miller tallied $123,000.
Fenninger topped the women's table with $375,000, and Shiffrin was third, earning $295,000.
FIVE-EVENT SKIERS: Miller, Vonn, Hoefl-Riesch and Tina Maze of Slovenia are rare talents in that all won overall titles by racing all five events: downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and super-combined (one run of downhill or super-G, plus a slalom run).
That week-in, week-out schedule increasingly seems too grueling to maintain, especially when competing against specialist technical racers like Shiffrin.
Hirscher has shown how to win solely with points scored in two events, which gives him some scheduled weekends off to train and rest.
WHO'S NEXT?: Like Fenninger and Weirather, Lara Gut of Switzerland typically attacks on three fronts and skips slalom.
Gut took advantage of Weirather's injury absence to finish third overall and, at 22, should only improve.
Shiffrin believes she can also challenge mainly in two events, though aims to step up in speed by including some super-G next season.
Praised by Hoefl-Riesch on Twitter as "(hashtag)biggesttalentofthecentury," Shiffrin should be bidding for the big crystal globe in the not-to-distant future.
Ligety, who finished fourth overall, often says ne needs better slalom results. Still, his form in occasional super-G and downhill outings is intriguing.
On Sunday, Hirscher tabbed one "young gun" as a future rival: Henrik Kristoffersen, the 19-year-old from Norway who won Olympic slalom bronze and is junior world champion in both technical events.