‘More pressure than the Olympics’: Sizing up an epic World Cup battle

Posted By: The Ski Channel on March 17, 2011 12:30 pm

Author of Story: Tom Kelly/USSA.ORG

The epic battle between Lindsey Vonn and Maria Riesch for the overall Audi FIS Alpine World Cup will come down to just two races, starting with Friday’s slalom. Friday will also be a big day for Ted Ligety as he goes for a third World Cup giant slalom crown. Universal Sports TV will showcase same-day coverage across America with the men at noon E.T. and women at 2:30 p.m. Following the weather cancelation of Thursday’s super Gs, Universal Sports’ broadcast commentators Steve Porino and Doug Lewis took time to share their thoughts on the dramatic turn of events that saw Vonn take the lead Wednesday.

‘More Pressure than Olympics’
“I think we’re learning a lot about Lindsey Vonn through this process,” said Porino, a former U.S. Ski team downhiller and veteran commentator. “To be down nearly 200 points just two weeks ago and to find the lead after the downhill Wednesday? It’s astonishing!

Photo: Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

Vonn battled a rugged downhill course to finish fourth. She suddenly found herself in the lead when rival Riesch, who had a horrific run, dropped out of the top 15 – losing out on World Cup points.

“She came right out and said it in Spindleruv Mlyn, leading into the Finals, ‘this is more pressure than the Olympics,’ added Porino. “That was one day after finishing on the podium in GS for the first time in her career. She’s had 50 GS starts in her career, and when she needed it most, she pulled the rabbit out of the hat. 

“It’s one thing to meet the incredibly high standards she’s set in the last years, but to exceed them under that kind of pressure is new territory even for her. After the downhill Wednesday, you only had to look as far as Maria Riesch to see what this kind of pressure can do to a skier, even one as mentally tough as her. She disintegrated.”

Women’s Speed Team Shows Heart
“The U.S. Ski Team’s women’s speed team showed a lot of heart Wednesday,” said Lewis. “It was impressive, from the dominating performance by Julia Mancuso on a track that was, by far, the most challenging conditions in a race this year, to the great performance by Leanne Smith who almost skied into the B-net and then finished ahead of Maria Riesch after running last out of the gate.”

“Julia has been dancing around the top step of the podium this year with a second and two thirds in speed, but had to wait until the final downhill for everything to come together,” added Lewis, who called the possibility of a Mancuso victory after talking with U.S. Ski Team coaches.

“On a Downhill course that is very technical and steep made even tougher by deteriorating snow conditions and flat light, Mancuso seemed to make it look easy and continued to build speed all the way to the finish line. Add to that her late start number of 22 and you get a performance that blew away the coaches and anyone watching. One coach even said she skied the middle section better than the men!”

Cancelation a Break for Riesch
“The cancelation of the super Gs at the World Cup finals means two things,” said Lewis, the 1985 World Championship downhill bronze medalist. “First Didier Cuche secures his second globe in two days without having to leave the start. Secondly Maria Riesch gets a gift as she will not lose any points in the overall to Lindsey Vonn and has an extra day to get her head screwed on right for the final two races of the season.”

“With Lindsey in the lead and having all the momentum, today’s super G just might have been the nail in the coffin over Riesch heading into the final two races,” said Lewis. “Lindsey, who could have easily entered the tech races with over a hundred point lead, now has to dig deep and push her limits in races that until last week in Spindleruv, had seemed foreign to her.

“More importantly for Riesch, she gets an extra day to try and clear her head,” said Lewis. “She needs to somehow stem the bleeding in her mental outlook and find the “Nothing to Lose” attitude that Lindsey has been living off of for the past month. On paper, the overall is Riesch’s. In the starting gate, it is Vonn’s.”

Lewis’s suggestion for Riesch: “Break out the “Rocky” movie and get inspired. Or maybe “Rudy” – that one always gets me fired up.”

Year of Recoveries
“Lindsey continued her “Year of Recoveries” as she made two excellent ones during her run into fourth place,” said Lewis. “The first one came early on a relatively easy section but almost catapulted her out of the course and possibly out of the fight for the overall. Then, in the tough super G section of the course she rotated into a precarious position where her weight was on her inside hand and uphill ski at 55 mph. But true to Vonn form, she was back in perfect angulation just a half second later and on her way to 50 World Cup points and the lead in the overall that she hadn’t seen since December.”

Ligety Thrives on Pressure
Olympic champion Ted Ligety has dominated giant slalom this season, winning the first three events and carrying a 77 point lead into Friday’s finale where he’ll ski for a third career crystal globe.

“I’d put Ligety almost in a class of his own when it comes to handling pressure,” said Porino. “Thrive is a better word. I don’t think the greater public gets that about him. They just remember the Ligety that didn’t get the GS gold medal at the Winter Olympics. But that was a very unique race with unique conditions.”

Ligety, who won the GS title in 2008, came back just a few weeks after the Vancouver Olympics to win a second globe and hopes to defend that title Friday. A month ago, he won GS gold at the World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

“The previous two times he’s won the GS title, a measure of his skiing all year, he’s been placed in must-win situations and done just that. Then at the World Championships he was absolutely the favorite and plowed through conditions that took out most of the other favorites.

“This week Ted has a chance to go down in U.S. history by becoming the first American win three GS titles. If he does so with a win – one he doesn’t need to take the title – he’ll tie Bode Miller’s mark of nine GS race wins. That’s a heavy load to put on a guy for one race, but I’d say his are some of the biggest shoulders in the sport.”

Same Day Coverage on Universal Sports
Porino and Lewis kick off each Audi FIS Alpine World Cup broadcast with their World Cup Ski Report, providing insights into the day’s racing action. Friday’s lineup will include two races that could be a part of U.S. Ski Team history. With her specialty events now behind her, Vonn must hang precariously onto a slim 27 point lead over Riesch. The American got the upper hand in last weekend’s two tech races. But can it happen again? Universal Sports kicks off its same day coverage at noon ET And while Ligety has a comfortable 77 point lead in GS, anything can happen. The title showdown will begin on Universal at 2:30 p.m. E.T.

Action continues on Saturday with men’s slalom and women’s giant slalom, with the Vonn-Riesch battle likely to come down to the final gates of the season.

Audi FIS Alpine World Cup Finals
Universal Sports TV Schedule

(times EDT; rebroadcasts in parentheses)

Thursday, March 17, 2011
12:00 p.m. – TBD (6:00 p.m., 11:30 p.m.)
2:30 p.m. – TBD (8:00 p.m.)

Friday, March 18, 2011
12:00 p.m. – Women’s slalom (11:30 p.m.)
2:30 p.m. – Men’s giant slalom (6:00 p.m., 11:30 p.m.)

Saturday, March 19, 2011
12:00 p.m. – Men’s slalom (8:00 p.m.)
2:30 p.m. – Women’s giant slalom (11:30 p.m.)