So it might not have been Bobby Thomson's "shot heard 'round the world" when the Giants beat the Dodgers in 1951. But in the world of skiing, the U.S. Ski Team hit a home run in 2012-13 with one of its best seasons on record as it readies for the Olympics in Sochi.
Consider a simple look at the numbers. Ted Ligety, Mikaela Shiffrin, and Lindsey Vonn all earned World Cup titles. The team produced 33 World Cup top three finishes from 10 different athletes, including a whopping 18 wins. And the women's speed team placed all six athletes on the podium, four for the first time ever. While Vonn won't compete in Sochi because of a right knee injury, she was the leader of a speed team with great depth and momentum.
"It's by far the most successful season we've had in recent history, going all the way back to the days of the Mahre brothers and Tamara McKinney," says the U.S. Ski Association's Doug Haney. "You'd be hard-pressed to find a season where we saw such diversified success from such a wide variety of athletes."
While the 2013-14 season has produced a slower start—Mikaela Shiffrin is the only skier ranked in the top 20 overall for the women, and outside of Ligety and Bode Miller, then men have struggled—the 2013 results still give the team momentum, the historic year etched into the annals of U.S. racing like the ruts they left on the race courses.
U.S. ALPINE TEAM
CELEBRATES BANNER YEAR WHILE READYING FOR SOCHI
Fourth GS title, with six
giant slalom wins and podiums in all eight races; super-G, super combined and GS
golds at World (first man since Jean Claude Killy in 1968 to win three golds in
one World Championships).
Won 59th World Cup race, just three shy of tying Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell on all-time women's list; raced in five of seven downhill races, winning three; clinched record sixth straight downhill title; locked up women's record 17th World Cup title (only Ingemar Stenmark has more
Four slalom wins, two thirds, and a gold at the World Championships (third youngest woman
to win a slalom World
Championship and youngest American to win a title since 1985). Fifth in overall
standings in only second year on tour.
"IT'S BY FAR THE MOST SUCCESSFUL SEASON WE'VE HAD IN RECENT HISTORY, GOING ALL THE WAY BACK TO THE DAYS OF THE MAHRE BROTHERS AND TAMARA MCKINNEY."
THE 2013-14 ALPINE SEASON IN A NUTSHELL
-DOUG HANEY, USSA
BY EUGENE BUCHANAN
Like skiing with your buddies when everyone's ripping, much of it can be attributed to feeding off each other's success. "If one athlete has success," says Haney, "the whole team builds on that."
No one believes that more than the athletes. "It's definitely exciting to be a part of such a talented team," says Leanne Smith, who secured two downhill podiums for the women. "Our team environment helps us succeed and the bar is now set really high. Last season was very memorable to each and every one of us at some point."
For the men, it started at the first event of the year in Sölden, Austria, on October 28 with Ted Ligety winning the giant slalom. Barely a month later, back to form after a concussion suffered two years earlier, Marco Sullivan secured a podium spot with a third place showing in the downhill at Lake Louise. A week later at Beaver Creek, Ligety struck again with another GS win, followed by a third-place finish shortly later in Val d'Isère.
Ted Ligety celebrates a record season en route to Sochi.
PHOTO: Mitchell Gunn
Steven Nyman pounced next, winning the downhill December 15 in Val Gardena, with Ligety adding to the tally in Alta Badia with his third win of the season. Pay dirt came again for Ligety January 12 when the circuit moved to Adelboden, Switzerland, where he flew down the course for another GS gold.
Then came the World Championships in Schladming, Austria, in February. Led by Ligety, who garnered a record-breaking three gold medals in super-G, super combined and GS—a feat no man has accomplished since Jean Claude Killy in 1968—the team captured an unprecedented five World Championship medals to become the first non-European country to win the medal standings.
"I had a good chance going in to get three
medals, for sure," says Ligety, who, for the year, won seven out the nine GS
races he entered. "I just didn't think that three golds was in the cards. It
was really a dream season." Sums up USSA president Bill Marolt: "His
performance was truly historic. It was incredible to watch the entire team's
hard work come together with such great results."
THEN CAME THE WORLD CHAMPS... LED BY LIGETY, WHO WON A RECORD-BREAKING THREE GOLD MEDALS—A FEAT NO MAN HAS ACCOMPLISHED SINCE 1968—THE TEAM CAPTURED AN UNPRECEDENTED FIVE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP MEDALS TO BECOME THE FIRST NON-EUROPEAN COUNTRY TO WIN THE MEDALS COUNT.
Feeding off his results, other team members kept the momentum going. At just age 17, Vail's Shiffrin added to the haul with a gold medal in slalom, becoming the third youngest woman to ever win a slalom Worlds and the youngest American to win a title since 1985. Mancuso contributed her part by winning the super-G bronze, marking the fifth World Championships medal of her career.
With the Worlds wrapped up, Ligety nabbed a podium spot again with a third-place GS showing February 24 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, followed by another win in Slovenia March 9 and closing the season with a final win in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. In all, Ligety's historic season included six World Cup GS victories, three World Championships golds, a fourth career overall GS crystal globe title, and a bronze in overall.
If the men's World Cup season was one to remember, the women's was even more impressive. It started in Levi, Finland, November 10, with upstart Shiffrin reaching the podium with a third in slalom. A few weeks later in Lake Louise, the women's team earned its best showing in history, with Vonn winning the downhill on day one and Stacey Cook taking second. They repeated those placings in the next day's downhill, and then with Vonn and Julia Mancuso schussed to first and second, respectively, in the final day's super-G. In all, they nabbed six medals in the series. That some came not from the stars but first-time placers fueled the fire even more.
kicked it off with two podiums, proving that what our team was doing was
working," says Smith. "For every single girl to reach the podium at least once
was empowering and fun to be a part of."
The women's team was far from finished. Vonn struck again in super-G December 8 in St. Moritz, Switzerland with yet another win, with Mancuso following in third, before Smith got on the board with a second-place showing in downhill on December 14 in Val d'Isère. On December 20, Shiffrin took first in slalom in Are, Sweden, before adding on another victory January 4 in Zagreb, Croatia.
Alice McKennis added to the team tally January 12 in St. Anton, Austria, with her first World Cup podium in downhill, with Shiffrin picking up her third win and fourth podium three days later in Flachau, Austria. The accolades continued to pile up like a Sierra snowstorm in Italy, with Vonn taking the downhill gold in Cortina d'Ampezzo and Smith the bronze. Vonn picked up another GS victory January 26 in Maribor, Slovenia, with Shiffrin adding a slalom bronze in Moscow.
Vonn out of the picture after suffering a season-ending knee injury on the
opening day of the World Championships, the magic continued. Mancuso tied for
the super-G silver in Garmisch March 1, and a day later Laurenne Ross earned a
silver in downhill. Mancuso followed with a bronze in super-G and Shiffrin
wrapped up the season with a slalom bronze in Ofterschwang, Germany, and another
slalom win at the finals in Lenzerheide. In all, the women's team notched 23
podiums for the season, with Vonn earning the overall downhill title, Shiffrin
sewing up the slalom category, and Mancuso taking the silver in super-G.
The results from both teams couldn't have come at a better time. "If you're going to have a great season, it's great to have it right before the Olympics," says Haney. "It sends you in with some momentum."
Racers agree. "It's great have the momentum in our favor going into such an important season," says downhiller Sullivan, who's eyeing his third Olympics in Sochi. "Our benchmarks for success have been redefined. As a result the entire team is working harder and expecting more."
The only possible hiccup to be aware of, adds Haney, is one of complacency; it's important not to rest on your laurels, especially during an Olympic year. After rebounding from a disappointing showing in 2006 for its most successful Olympics ever with eight medals in Vancouver, the U.S. Team is pulling out all the stops to carry its success into Sochi.
produced tremendous performances in Vancouver, but that was with home-field
advantage without home-field pressure," says USSA executive vice-president of
athletics Luke Bodensteiner. "Since 2010, we've continued to build our depth
and now have champion athletes across all disciplines. But the margins at the
Olympics are small and we can't rest on what we've done. We've organized the
best preparation plan we've ever produced to ensure our athletes have the
platform for success in Sochi."
Third in the opening downhill of the season at Lake Louise.
IN ALL, THE WOMEN'S TEAM NOTCHED 23 PODIUMS FOR THE SEASON, WITH VONN EARNING THE WORLD CUP DOWNHILL TITLE, SHRIFFIN THE SLALOM, AND MANCUSO SECOND IN SUPER-G.
Mammoth's Stacey Cook shredded her way to success last season, adding to a record year for the women. PHOTO: Roger Witney, Peak Photography