2014 Sochi Winter Olympics: Alpine Skiing Preview and Predictions | Respect the Crown | Sports Unbiased

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics: Alpine Skiing Preview and Predictions

Eight years ago, Ted Ligety surprised the world with a gold medal run in the combined in Turin. At Schladming, Austria last February, Ligety became the first man in 45 years to hold the world championship in three disciplines. He arrives in Sochi currently ranked third in the FIS World Cup overall standings. [Marco Trovati/AP]

Eight years ago, Ted Ligety surprised the world with a gold medal run in the combined in Turin. He arrives in Sochi as the reigning world champion in the giant slalom, Super G and Alpine combined. [Marco Trovati/AP]

 

Schedule of Events

sochi2014_alpineskiingcalendar

 

Surely you’ve heard by now that Lindsey Vonn — the 2010 Olympic gold medalist in the women’s downhill, four-time FIS World Cup overall champion, and quadrennial marketing dynamo — will be forced to miss this year’s events at Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort 25 miles outside Sochi. Four years ago she skied in Whistler with a severely bruised shin, earning bronze in the Super G in addition to downhill gold, but torn ligaments in her right knee have proven too much to endure at this Olympiad.

But while the most recognizable American face in women’s skiing is left on the sidelines, there is still plenty of hope for the USA among the ladies. Remember, Vonn isn’t even the most decorated Olympian among the U.S. women’s contingent… and she isn’t even the top-ranked American skier on the World Cup circuit at the moment. That honor belongs to Julia Mancuso, who added to her giant slalom gold from Turin 2006 with two silver medals in the downhill and combined events at Vancouver. Now 29 years old, the Squaw Valley native is currently ranked fourth in the World Cup overall standings.

2013_FISworlds_shiffrin

Mikaela Shiffrin (center), just 18 years old, is a dynamic slalom specialist that has already won a world championship and World Cup title and could earn Olympic gold in the discipline in Sochi. [Markku Ulander/Lehtikuva]

One spot behind Mancuso in the World Cup rankings is 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin, who last season won both the world championship and the World Cup title in the slalom. On pace to replicate her top-five overall finish and slalom championship in the World Cup this season, Shiffrin is seemingly in position to become the next great female skier from the United States. Making her first appearance in the Olympics, she is bound to become a familiar face for American skiing fans over the next decade.

But Shiffrin and Mancuso will certainly have their challengers for the medals. The biggest danger in all disciplines is Slovenian stalwart Tina Maze. In Vancouver, Maze took silver in the Super G and the giant slalom; now, coming off a World Cup overall title in 2013 and with the inside track to repeat that feat, Maze will likely be the favorite in both disciplines.

The Slovenian is leading the points race in the World Cup Super G, giant slalom, and super combined standings. She is a close second behind the injured Vonn in the downhill standings and Shiffrin in the slalom standings. Theoretically she is in position to win medals in all five disciplines, which would make her the first person — man or woman — to pull off the feat since the IOC added Super G and the combined to the Olympic skiing program in 1988. (Only one woman, Janica Kostelic of Croatia, has won four medals in a single Olympics when she took three gold and a silver in 2002; no man has ever won more than three medals in one Olympiad.)

Others who will have a say include the Olympic champions from 2010. Maria Höfl-Riesch, now 30 years old but still in the top three of the World Cup overall standings, took gold in the combined and bronze in the downhill at last year’s FIS World Championships in Schladming, Austria. She will be defending her Olympic crowns in both the slalom and combined.

Then there are the two women who beat Maze for gold four years ago. Viktoria Rebensburg, the German who took the giant slalom by 0.04 seconds over Maze in Whistler, has tapered off after winning the World Cup giant slalom titles in 2011 and 2012. But at only 23 she still is a threat to medal in the discipline. In the Super G, 28-year-old Austrian Andrea Fischbacher is far less likely to pull off the surprise again; she currently sits 21st in the World Cup standings in the discipline and 60th in the overall list.

Austria will have other contenders as well, with 24-year-old Anna Fenninger currently ranked third in the World Cup standings and Elisabeth Görgl back for another go-around in what might be her final Olympiad at age 32. Nicole Hosp will also challenge Maze in the Super G, while Kathrin Zettel won an appeal to also appear for the Austrian team in the super combined.

 

Women's Alpine Skiing Medal Favorites

SUPER COMBINEDMaria Höfl-Riesch (GER)Tina Maze (SLO)Nicole Hosp (AUT)
DOWNHILLTina Maze (SLO)Maria Höfl-Riesch (GER)Stacey Cook (USA)
SUPER GTina Maze (SLO)Julia Mancuso (USA)Anna Fenninger (AUT)
GIANT SLALOMTina Maze (SLO)Viktoria Rebensburg (GER)Anna Fenninger (AUT)
SLALOMMikaela Shiffrin (USA)Tina Maze (SLO)Maria Höfl-Riesch (GER)

 

On the men’s side, the American to watch is no longer Bode Miller. Instead, Ted Ligety has proven to be far more than a surprise 2006 Olympic gold medalist in the combined. Since that breakthrough, Ligety has claimed four World Cup titles in the giant slalom, finished third in the World Cup overall last season, and is on pace to claim a fifth giant slalom title and another top-three finish this year. More impressively, he won three gold medals (in the giant slalom, super combined, and Super G) at the FIS World Championships in Schladming last winter. The feat made Ligety the first man since Jean-Claude Killy in 1968 to reign as the world champ in three disciplines on the slopes. After failing to medal in Vancouver, he will be motivated by his recent good form to return to the heights of Torino.

Ligety’s biggest challenger in the super combined is Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic, who took silver in the event behind Miller in Vancouver and won the World Cup overall in 2011. Kostelic is a technical racer who will also be a favorite in the slalom. After winning silver medals in both Torino and Vancouver, the Croat is hoping to finally climb to the top step of the podium in his third Olympiad.

Svindal has only improved since claiming two medals in Vancouver and could be celebrating more victories in Sochi. [Gero Breloer/AP]

Svindal has only improved since claiming two medals in Vancouver and could be celebrating more victories in Sochi. [Gero Breloer/AP]

But Kostelic will be pushed in the combined by Ligety and in the slalom by Marcel Hirscher, the World Cup overall champ each of the past two seasons. The Austrian is on pace to win a third straight crown this season thanks to his own prowess on technical courses. He finished second behind Ligety in the super combined at the world championships and claimed gold in the slalom ahead of Germany’s Felix Neureuther.

Another skier to watch on the men’s side is Aksel Lund Svindal. The Norwegian is the reigning World Cup champion in both the downhill and Super G; he took gold in the latter in Vancouver, while he currently holds the title of world champion in the former in Schladming. Svindal, consistently one of the fastest racers on the World Cup circuit, finished comfortably ahead of Italy’s Dominik Paris the the Schladming downhill, and with four wins already this season (two in each of his favorite specialties) he could be in line for more gold.

Then there is Switzerland’s Carlo Janka, who won the Olympic giant slalom in Whistler four years ago and still has the potential to spring a surprise on the field at only 26 years old. Though his results have tapered off significantly since winning the World Cup overall in 2010 and subsequently being forced into surgery for heart arrhythmias the following season. Though the Swiss skier is fairly off the radar and barely clinging to a top-50 position in this year’s World Cup standings, he remains an athlete worth watching.

Other contenders include Alexis Pinturault, the French skier who is tied with Kostelic in the World Cup super combined standings; Paris, the Italian that came closest to knocking Svindal from the top step of the podium at last year’s world championships; and Paris’ compatriot, Matteo Marsaglia, who is behind only Svindal in the Super G standings this season.

 

Men's Alpine Skiing Medal Favorites

SUPER COMBINEDIvica Kostelic (CRO)Ted Ligety (USA)Alexis Pinturault (FRA)
DOWNHILLAksel Lund Svindal (NOR)Dominik Paris (ITA)Klaus Kröll (AUT)
SUPER GAksel Lund Svindal (NOR)Ted Ligety (USA)Matteo Marsaglia (ITA)
GIANT SLALOMTed Ligety (USA)Marcel Hirscher (AUT)Carlo Janka (SUI)
SLALOMMarcel Hirscher (AUT)Ivica Kostelic (CRO)Felix Neureuther (GER)
Zach Bigalke

About the Author: Zach Bigalke

Zach is a historian and author who has been covering sports near and far for various publications since 2006. Formerly the managing editor of Informative Sports and Global Turnstile, he has also been featured at Helium, FanSided, the Portland State Vanguard and other online publications and is the author of three books, including "Dispatches from Vancouver: A Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America's View of the XXI Winter Olympiad". He currently lives in Eugene, Oregon. Follow him at Twitter @zbigalke; for more info on his books, visit Amazon.