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
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
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
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."
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.
Podiumed in four of six super-Gs (never worse than sixth) and was in position for
the discipline title when the final race was canceled; Fourth in overall
standings for the second straight season.
Two downhill podiums in Lake Louise (the first of her career), to finish fourth in
the discipline standings.
Two downhill podiums (second in Val d'Isere, third in Cortina); 12th in the
discipline standings and 25th in overall.
PHOTO: Mitchell Gunn
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.
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
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 the discipline standings.
Mammoth's Stacey Cook shredded her way to success last season, adding to a record year for the women. PHOTO: Roger Witney, Peak Photography