As the miles of red fence are rolled and towering finish stadiums deconstructed into stacks Ted Ligety, Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso can look back on the collective three medals they earned for the U.S. Ski Team. The 2011 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships have closed, but in those 13 days, the legacy of these three athletes has changed.
Before last week, only five Americans had won both Olympic and World Championship gold in alpine skiing. Vonn is one of them, so is Bode Miller. Also on the list are skiing legends Barbara-Ann Cochran, Phil Mahre and Picabo Street. On Friday, Feb. 18, Ligety joined the club.
Fourth after the first run, Ligety stood in the Garmisch giant slalom start and knew he had to perform. As a two-time World Cup giant slalom champion and convincing winner of the first three GS races of the season, everyone looked at him to win.
“It feels incredible to solidify your name in the sport especially with two runs that I’m proud of,” said Ligety. “Being on some level with the names on that list is pretty cool, but I feel like I’ve got 10 more years left in me and a lot more speed that I still need to find. I’m looking toward the World Cup overall title.”
“I sorta blocked it all out,” he said. “Pressure is always there for every athlete and probably we put more pressure on ourselves than anyone. But I knew that I did everything I could to be in a position to win. I had worked harder in the off season than ever, I knew my skis were fast and I knew I had the ability to be fast.”
With his parents in the finish, he was fast. Then he watched as the top three finishers from the first run failed to match.
Even before opening ceremony, Mancuso knew winning a medal during the early competition would be a battle. Expecting warm weather, organizers had worked the Kandahar speed track into titanium hard snow that wound through a forest of dark turns riddled with country road washboard. Rugged was the beginning of a much longer definition.
“It’s not like every other race on the World Cup,” Mancuso said before the opening super G. “I like to think of it as a challenge. I like to ski the hill and see what I have to conquer.”
Head Coach Alex Hoedlmoser said it would take a champion to podium in the race. He was right. Mancuso finished five hundredths of a second from gold, adding a fourth medal to her World Championship total – a total only Vonn and 1989 combined gold medalist Tamara McKinney have reached.
Midway through the Championships, Vonn upped the ante. Her silver medal performance in downhill notched career Worlds podium number five and matched her with only one other American skier to have reached the mark – Miller.
“At a World Championships you have the atmosphere to do something special,” said Miller before that race. “If you can use that to build your inspiration, then you’re capable of using it to get a performance out of yourself that you wouldn’t be capable of getting any other way.”
And while Miller did not podium in Garmisch, it would be unfair to say he didn’t perform. In the men’s super G, he won three of four timing intervals skiing most of the gnarly slope with one pole before eventually losing his balance a few gates shy of the finish. Gold medalist Christof Innerhofer of Italy said afterward that Miller inspired him to charge.
Miller would later win the second run of giant slalom that helped propel Ligety to victory by radioing exactly what he learned to the top of the slope.
“Medals are great, but I’m not in this for the medals,” said men’s Head Coach Sasha Rearick after the Worlds closed. “I’m in this to get the guys to go faster. It’s all about hard work, that’s what I’ve always been about. Behind Ted’s gold is a lot of hard work from every member of this team, that’s what I’m proud of.”
Miller is a member of that team.
Rearick would then also throw a nod to young athletes like Travis Ganong, Tommy Ford and Nolan Kasper who produced impressive performances in their first World Championships. The women’s team reciprocated as Laurenne Ross (Klamath Falls, OR) placed a stunning 10th in the downhill.
In retrospect, the Garmisch podium surprised as Tina Maze (GS) and Austrians Elisabeth Goergl (super G/downhill), Anna Fenninger (super combined) and Marlies Schild (slalom) claimed the first major championships of their career. Innerhofer, Canadian Erik Guay (downhill) and Jean-Baptiste Grange of France (slalom) did the same on the men’s side. Austria would end up toppling the overall medal count with seven.
Only Ligety and Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal (super combined) triumphed when expected with Audi FIS Alpine World Cup favorites Ivica Kostelic of Croatia, Maria Riesch of Germany, Carlo Janka and Didier Cuche of Switzerland and Vonn missing the top step.
World Cup racing resumes Friday, Feb. 25 in Are, Sweden for women and Saturday, Feb. 26 in Bansko, Bulgaria for men . Universal Sports has daily coverage of every race.
Titles will again be decided March 14-20 when the World Cup Finals are staged in Lenzerheide, Switzlerland. Until then, there are three more weekends for the World’s best to stake their claim.