Words: Amara McLaughlin
It was another big weekend on the World Cup circuit. German speed queen Maria Hoefl-Riesch rivaled Lindsey Vonn’s title in the downhill at Lake Louise on Friday and Saturday, while Aksel Lund Svindal soared to his first win in the men’s downhill at Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey. Meanwhile, Ted Ligety became the first man in World Cup history to win four or more giant slalom races at two separate venues with his first place finish Sunday.
Svindal has stood on the podium before at Beaver Creek. Of his 52 podium finishes 11 have now come at this venue, with two second place finishes in the downhill and super-G in 2012. But this year he finally conquered his prey again at Friday’s downhill for the first time since he won back-to-back races in 2008.
Meanwhile, the women kicked out of the start gate on Friday and Saturday at Lake Louise, Alberta, onto a frosty downhill course with their faces taped for temperatures consistent of -18 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite the struggle to stay warm, Hoefl-Riesch proved that not even the cold could slow her down.
She swept the downhill podium Friday and Saturday with back-to-back wins putting an end to the venues nickname, Lake Lindsey. The last time she won back-to back at Lake Louise was three years ago, but an aggressive Hoefl-Riesch dominated the course with the fastest speeds at 84 mph at the first speed trap and 79 mph at the second split in her Saturday run. Hoefl-Riesch who rivaled away the overall World Cup champion globe from Lindsey Vonn in 2011 by three points, upset Vonn’s storied return to Lake Louise.
Despite Hoefl-Riesch’s success this weekend, Vonn who finished 40th on Friday after not racing for 10 months, made up for this disappointment Saturday finishing 11th and Sunday with her fifth place finish in the super-G. Vonn is racing with a partially torn ACL after a training setback three weeks ago at Copper Mountain, Colorado. Back on the recovery trail, Vonn is looking ahead, targeting the Sochi Olympic Games in February less than two full months away.
But down in Beaver Creek, Ted Ligety and Bode Miller packed a one-two punch in Sunday’s giant slalom for the U.S. Miller, who lost last season to a knee injury he sustained in Sochi, Russia in 2011. The two shared a majority American podium for the first time since 2005, when Miller and Daron Rahlves lined up a 1-2 finish at Beaver Creek. This was also Ligety’s fourth straight World Cup giant slalom win on the World Cup circuit.
Back to Lake Louise for Sunday’s turny super-G course, Lara Gut from Switzerland, who struggled in the downhill with the mountain’s moderate terrain due to her aggressive style, relaxed her edges and let the course unfold to a win with a time of 1:22.86. Her fourth career super-G win here and fourth race this season put Gut back on top of the overall standings.
The World Cup circuit moves to more challenging terrain in Europe next weekend with the ladies heading to St. Moritz, Switzerland and the men moving onto Val d’Isere, France.