Olympic women's alpine skiing preview
Who will emerge from Vonn's shadow?
There are several strong women’s ski contenders who will be looking to take advantage of the absence of Lindsey Vonn at the Sochi Olympics.
Vonn, one of the most well-know winter athletes in the world and the 2010 Olympic downhill champ, is out due to a knee injury.
Winning and attention go hand in hand, but not all skiers enjoy the spotlight the way Vonn does.
Austria's Anna Fenninger, with six World Cup podium finishes this season, told CBC Sports earlier this season that she considers herself a shy person, and will probably let her skis do the talking in Sochi.
Small nation, mighty skier
Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein could emerge as one of skiing’s faces of Sochi, according to CBC Sports alpine analyst Kerrin-Lee Gartner.
“She's friendly, happy go lucky and the [skiing] world is intrigued by her and the story of where she came from,” said Gartner.
Weirather, who’s been on the podium nine times this season across three disciplines, is from a country with a population of just 37,000. Her mother and uncle accounted for six of the country’s nine Olympic medals won in alpine between 1976 and 1988, but the nation hasn’t won a medal since. Her father, born in Austria, was one of the best downhillers in the early 1980s.
Mikaela Shiffrin is another candidate to shine at these Winter Games. The 18-year-old has already garnered a lot of attention in the U.S., both for her prowess at a young age and due to the absence of Vonn. But her splash in Sochi might be mitigated by the fact her strongest event, the slalom, occurs toward the end of the Olympics.
Should she break Canada’s 20-year Olympic medal drought in alpine skiing, the congenial Marie-Michèle Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que.,will no doubt become a Winter Games star. Gagnon has several top 10 showings this season, topped by a super-combined victory in January.
Maze finding her way
The intense Tina Maze of Slovenia enjoyed one of the most dominant ski seasons ever in 2012-13, with a record 24 podium appearances. She has “just” four podiums so far this season, but may be peaking at the right time, winning her first race in a Jan. 25 downhill.
The fact that Maze isn’t doing anything wrong technically compared to her historic season illustrates that the mind game is critical for alpine success.
“If Tina Maze can break a little bit mentally, then almost any athlete out there can,” said Gartner.
While Maze has struggled to relax, at least two other skiers seem to be in a zone.
Maria Hoefl-Riesch has won three downhill races and hit the podium nine times this season to lead the overall World Cup standings. The German told CBC she’s preparing the best she can but not forcing things as she looks to add to the two gold medals she won in Vancouver.
“Everything must fit together on this [race] day for you, and you need some luck as well,” she said.
The telegenic Lara Gut could also emerge a star in Sochi, based on her torrid start to the season. The Swiss skier has won five World cup races across downhill, super-G and giant slalom.
Swiss team member Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden figures to be one of Hoefl-Riesch’s main challengers to succeed Vonn as downhill champ, with four top-three finishes in the discipline this season.
Austrians, Swedes deep
While individuals often command the stage in alpine, the Swedish team has blossomed this season without much fanfare. Over the previous two seasons the team won six silver medals, five by Frida Hansdotter. This year, Hansdotter, Jessica Lindell-Vikarby and Kajsa King have already accounted for two wins and 10 medals.
Austrian women, meanwhile, have accounted for just over 25 per cent of the World Cup medals so far this season.
The Austrian team is so stacked that the country’s lone alpine gold medal winner from Vancouver, Andrea Fischbacher, won’t defend her super-G title. She was left off in favour of skiers with better recent results.
Olympic alpine skiing schedule:
- Sunday, Feb. 9: Men's downhill
- Monday, Feb. 10: Women's super-combined
- Wednesday, Feb. 12: Women's downhill
- Friday, Feb. 14: Men's super-combined
- Saturday, Feb. 15: Women's super-G
- Sunday, Feb. 16: Men's super-G
- Tuesday, Feb. 18: Women's giant slalom
- Wednesday, Feb. 19: Men's giant slalom
- Friday, Feb. 21: Women's slalom
- Saturday, Feb. 22: Men's slalom