Everyone You Need To Know In Olympic Women’s Ski Racing

Mikaela Shiffrin celebrates a double victory at a World
Cup event in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia. Photo by Erich Spiess/AP
Photo

Since Sochi, the women’s ski racing field has undergone a
serious shake-up. Sure,
the men
have had some big-name retirements since 2014
(Bode
Miller
, Ivica Kostelić, Mario Matt, Benjamin Raich). But
the women were practically swept of their previous all-stars:
As they hit 30 (or came close), an entire generation of
incredible athletes hung up their (race) skis.

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Julia Mancuso, the U.S. skier you could find surfing in Hawaii
almost as often as the slopes, was the most recent to say
goodbye, taking a farewell bow at the Cortina downhill last
month. Although she hadn’t climbed a World Cup podium since
December 2014, the 33-year-old is a loss this year, and not
just because her laid-back attitude always lent some levity to
the sport: the U.S.’s most-decorated female Olympic skier in
history, she almost always managed to pull off the big events,
winning gold in GS in 2006, silver in downhill and combined in
2010, bronze in the combined in 2014, and two silver and three
bronze medals in the World Champs.

But it’s not just Mancuso. The
incredibly talented all-arounder Tina Maze
of Slovenia, who
won gold in Sochi in both downhill and super-G,
retired last year in typically whimsical fashion
. German
Maria Höfl-Riesch, another all-discipline threat who won silver
in super-G and gold in combined (and in 2010, two golds—one in
slalom, one in combined), called her career after a crash at
the end of the 2014 season. Dominique Gisin of Switzerland, who
shared downhill gold with Maze (they had the same time), left
the sport. So did Austrian Nicole Hosp, the three-time Olympic
medalist who took bronze in the super-G plus silver in the
combined, and her teammate Kathrin Zettel, who took bronze in
slalom. And Austrian Marlies Schild, a slalom legend so
phenomenal that she was Mikaela Shiffrin’s childhood idol, who
took her second Olympic silver in slalom (she’d also previously
won Olympic bronze in slalom and silver in combined), retired,
too.

Of the 15 medals given out at Sochi, only four of the winners
remain. (On the men’s side, 11 Sochi medal winners remain
active).

So who’s left, you might ask? A new raft of young, fast talent,
hungry for medal. (And a couple of the most phenomenal of them
American.)

The good news for U.S. fans is that, between Mikaela Shiffrin
and Lindsey Vonn, the U.S. team has a couple of Olympic
medallists already on hand. And both are well positioned to
pull it off again this season. That means the U.S. team is
looking good, even
despite the sad news from this week
that 25-year-old Jackie
Wiles, who had just had her first podium of the season at
Cortina, had the kind of head-over-heels crash in last
weekend’s downhill at Garmisch that made every viewer wince
(and Lindsey Vonn, in the victor’s seat, freak out). She tore
her ACL, fractured her fibula and tibia, and (obviously) won’t
be skiing at Pyeongchang.

The women’s GS starts on Feb. 12. That’s followed by a
Valentine’s Day slalom, a Feb. 17 super-G, Feb. 21 downhill and
combined on the 23rd. With a practically new post-Sochi Olympic
field, here’s who to watch.

Mikaela Shiffrin poses at a Team USA media event. Photo
by Rick Bowmer/AP Photo

Mikaela Shiffrin (slalom, GS, maybe downhill and
combined):
At this point,
Shiffrin needs no introduction
. The 22-year-old is still
leading the pack in the overall on the tour, across all the
disciplines, with almost twice as many points as runner-up
Wendy Holdener. That speaks to what an insane season she’s
had.

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But if she’s going to get one or two victories at Pyeongchang—a
pretty likely possibility—what she does need is to turn her
luck around. After seeming almost indestructible, over the
final run-up to the Olympics she’s had an uncharacteristic
series of mishaps: missing a gate at the Cortina super-G,
falling in the GS at Kronplatz, an anomalous seventh place in
the GS at Lenzerheide ,and skiing out of the course in the
slalom the next day. Maybe it’s just the fates evening things
out. Maybe the pressure is getting to her. Regardless, Shiffrin
must be praying to Lady Luck right now (and hoping to fight off
those
“pellets” of nerves
) ahead of the highest pressure event of
the calendar.

Even with her recent streak, though, in slalom she remains the
one to beat.
She won slalom gold in Sochi at just 18
, the youngest
athlete to ever do so, and in three World Championships in a
row—2013, ‘15 and ‘17.
She took the overall title and slalom title last season

and, even with her recent slip-ups, remains on track to do so
again this season. In other words, she’s practically a shoo-in
for not only a podium in Pyeongchang, but gold. Even if she
settles for silver, it will be only the third slalom this
season out of eight that she hasn’t won.

Her GS, meanwhile, is almost as solid of a medal bet. Up until
her super-rare crash at Kronplatz and her seventh place at
Lenzerheide, she’d had four GS podiums in a row. At the St.
Moritz World Championships last year, she came in second.

But amazingly, tech specialist Shiffrin—who already had
expanded her repertoire to super-G—not only tested out her
downhill skills for the first time on the World Cup tour this
season. She made it look almost easy, winning one race and
coming in third in two others. (She also skipped some
downhills, including the most recent at Garmisch). Will she
even be racing downhill at the Olympics? It’s unclear. She’s
said before that she wants to medal in every single Olympic
event, and her earlier results alone should have given her the
confidence to give it a shot. After her last couple of weeks,
though, I’d predict that she’ll only do it if she’s already
nailed the GS and slalom, which come first on the calendar.
Regardless, if she also races the combined—which marries a
slalom and a downhill—her cross-training means she’ll be
especially well positioned to do well.

TLDR: Unless she turns out to have been completely shattered by
the last couple of weeks, which I doubt, expect her to medal in
at least slalom and GS, possibly combined and downhill.

Petra Vlhova, left, and Mikaela Shiffrin, right, compete
at a parallel slalom event in Courchevel. Photo by Gabriele
Facciotti/AP Photo

Petra Vlhova (slalom, maybe GS): Even
Shiffrin’s mother has remarked that the aggressive, dynamic
Slovakian skis more like Mikaela than Mikaela. In fact, the
rare times that Shiffrin has faltered this season, it’s been
22-year-old Vlhova who’s picked up the mantle. When Shiffrin
came in second in the slalom at Levi this year—one of two
slaloms all season she didn’t win—it was Vlhova who grabbed
first. And when Shiffrin skied out at Lenzerheide, Vlhova won
again.

Funnily enough, Vlhova doesn’t always podium otherwise. Outside
of those two wins, a second place at Killington (to Shiffrin)
and a second in the parallel slalom event (where the racers go
head-to-head) at Courchevel (also to Shiffrin), her slalom
results this season have varied from fourth to eight to a DNF.
But expect any subpar performance on Shiffrin’s end to put wind
beneath Vlhova’s wings.

You’ll also see Vlhova in the GS, but with a best result of
seventh in the GS this season, she’s a less likely medal
contender.

Frida Hansdotter (slalom, maybe GS): Like
Vlhova, the Swedish skier is one of Shiffrin’s biggest slalom
competitors. Unlike Vlhova, this season she hasn’t managed to
beat Shiffrin in any race the American has actually finished.
And in the last slalom where Shiffrin skied out, Hansdotter
came runner-up to Vlhova’s victory—the most recent in her now
five-podium streak in slalom races on the tour.

She’s also no stranger to big events, sharing the podium in
each of the last three World Championships with Shiffrin. The
one podium she hasn’t gotten? An Olympic one. She’ll want to
change that this year. But with a decade of experience on her
rivals (and an extra Olympics under her belt), the 32-year-old
is a serious contender.

You’ll also see Hansdotter competing in the GS, but like
Vlhova, she’s less likely to medal there.

Wendy Holdener (slalom and combined, possibly
GS):
Switzerland’s 24-year-old Holdener has come into
her own in the last couple of seasons. She won gold in the
combined and silver in slalom at the World Ski Championships in
her home country last year. This year, she’s earned a podium in
every slalom she’s finished (she DNF’ed in two) and won the one
combined race held so far on the tour. In GS, her best result
has been a just-missed-it fourth. Her last Olympics didn’t go
so well: She didn’t finish the GS or slalom. Expect this to be
the year she gives her all to making up for it.

Lindsey Vonn competes in the downhill at Garmisch. Photo
by Hans Bezard/Getty Images

Lindsey Vonn (downhill, super-G and combined):
The (only) other female U.S. racer to need no real
introduction, Vonn has been vocal about one goal in particular
this season: Already the most decorated racer in U.S. history,
she wants to win the most World Cup races of any athlete in the
world, ever. (Barring further injury, she’ll probably
succeed).

It’s equally likely, though, that she’ll want to augment her
collection of Olympic medals. Out of the last four Games, she
had to sit out one (2014) and won two medals, a bronze in
super-G and gold in downhill, both in 2010. Those are
remarkable results, but she knows she can do better. And
lately, she’s been showing it: She’s won each of the last three
downhills on the tour, putting her career World Cup victory
count at a jaw-dropping 81. She’s also done well in the
super-G, winning two this year.

But at a battle-scarred 33, where a career’s worth of crashes
have wrecked her knees multiple times, her results can be
inconsistent and falling remains a big part of her repertoire.
She crashed in the super-G at the World Championships last year
(but still followed it up by coming third in the later
downhill) and in two of the three speed events at Lake Louise
earlier this year. As she’s said before, her motto is usually
“Go big or go home”—and that’s not going to be any different at
Pyeongchang. If she finishes, expect her to finish big.

Lara Gut (super-G, maybe downhill, GS and
combined):
Gut, the overall title holder in 2016, is
currently leading the super-G standings. And that’s quite a
comeback. The Swiss earned not one, but two, World Ski
Championships podiums back in 2009 at just 18 years old, and
the rest of her career has been more of the same, including a
bronze in downhill at Sochi in 2014. But she suffered a
horrific crash on the downhill at her home World Championships
in St Moritz last year, tearing her ACL and putting her out for
the rest of the season. (She did grab a third-place finish in
the super-G first).

This year, she’s come back to attack not one, but three
disciplines—and has been performing best in super-G, where
she’s podiumed in an impressive four out of the tour’s seven
races so far. She’s still finding her feet in downhill, even
more so in GS.

Anna Veith (super-G and downhill, maybe GS):
Maybe it’s just because
she’s more me-sized than the other girls on the tour
, but
I’ve always had a soft spot for Austrian Anna Veith, née
Fenninger. And while it’s a long shot, I’ll be rooting for her
in Pyeongchang. Another almost all-around phenom, she took two
medals at Sochi—gold in the super-G, silver in GS—and has
performed exceptionally at other big events too, winning no
fewer than three golds, a silver, and a bronze in World Champs
races. But after winning the overall title two seasons in a
row, Veith crashed in a training run just before the opening
race for the 2016 season at Sölden, tearing her ACL and
meniscus. She only returned, slowly, last season, and she’s had
a hard time finding her feet. Still, she grabbed her first
victory since her injury just after Christmas at the Val
d’Isere super-G, and she’s come tantalizingly close to the
podium several times since. If she races GS, it’ll be a much
longer shot—but I’ll be glued to the screen for her speed runs.

Sofia Goggia dabs after winning the downhill at Bad
Kleinkirchheim. Photo by Hans Bezard/Getty Images

Sofia Goggia (downhill, and maybe super-G and
GS):
In the downhill, Italy’s 25-year-old Goggia is
one to watch. For one, she’s currently in the lead for the
event’s crystal globe. And although she’s never been to the
Olympics before, at the Ski Championships in St Moritz last
year she just missed the podium, coming in fourth.

But she’s also one to watch because she’s fun to
watch. She takes serious risks on the hill but often pushes
herself beyond the point of finesse—she sometimes reminds me of
a Bode Miller in a much smaller, Italian package. Even in her
strongest discipline, downhill, she’s never predictable: she
followed up a victory at the Cortina downhill a couple of weeks
ago with
a crash in the same downhill
the next day—then grabbed
second place at Garmisch, twice. (She’s also pretty
entertaining, bringing potty-mouthed Italian to the
competition. After Vonn edged Goggia’s winning run in the
downhill yesterday, Goggia, a friendly rival of hers, shouted,
“Bastardona!”—big bastard!).

She brings that same spirit to super-G and GS. In super-G,
Goggia has failed to finish one out of every three or four
super-Gs in the last few seasons… but when she finishes, she
can finish big: she’s had two super-G podiums this year. She
also came in fastest at the super-G test for the Pyeongchang
run a couple years ago. And she’s not one to count out for GS,
where she’s also had a podium this year and came in third in
the World Championships last year. Whether she’ll medal or not
is a crapshoot, but one thing is for sure: Watching her never
fails to be exciting.

Tina Weirather (downhill and super-G): The
daughter of two World Cup ski racers, Liechtenstein’s Weirather
is one of the speediest women on the circuit. She’s currently
behind Gut by a hair in the overall super-G standings, while
she’s third to Goggia and Vonn in the downhill. She’s been on
the podium in three downhills and three super-Gs this season,
plus came in second at the super-G in the St Moritz World
Championships last year.

After competing in the 2006 Olympics, she had to sit out 2010
(she tore her ACL on a crash at Cortina in January) and 2014
(she injured her leg on a training run for the downhill at
Sochi). Expect her to be making up for lost time (and lost
health) in this Games.

Viktoria Rebensburg (GS, maybe downhill and
super-G):
The German competes in three different
events—GS, super-G, and downhill—but GS is her strongest
discipline. After launching the season with back-to-back GS
wins at Sölden and Killington, she’s still leading the GS
standings. She knows how to bring it at big events, too. At
just 20 years old, she took GS gold at Whistler in 2010, then
followed it up with GS bronze at Sochi and second place at the
World Championships GS in 2015. She’ll definitely be on the
hunt for a podium in the GS at Pyeongchang. And she’s probably
hoping to follow up her downhill second-place at Lake Louise
this year with a solid performance in that event, too.

Tessa Worley (GS, maybe super-G): The same age
as Rebensburg, to the day—both racers turned 28 on October
4—the French phenom Worley is her match in skill, too.
Rebensburg may have come in first in the 2015 World Champs, but
Worley did in 2017. And Rebensburg may be No. 1 in the overall
GS standings this year, but Worley won it last year, becoming
the first French woman to seize it since 1993. She’s also
nipping at Rebensburg’s heels for it this year. Like
Rebensburg, she’s having a strong season that’s included four
GS podiums. And while she’s less likely to medal in super-G,
with a best result of fourth this season, the speed event could
always be in the cards.

Federica Brignone (GS, super-G, and combined):
Like her teammates, the 27-year-old Italian isn’t always the
most consistent skier. But she’s more than capable of
performing—as has been shown this season, when she followed up
a crash at Courchevel with a hard-fought victory at the very
next GS.

Brignone tends to underperform at big events—she DNF’ed in the
GS at both Sochi and the Vail-Beaver Creek Champs in 2015—but
as her second place in the 2011 ski championships and her
just-off-the-podium fourth place in the GS at St. Moritz last
year showed, that’s not a hard and fast rule. She also has good
speed experience: She’s won a super-G this season and come in
second in a downhill. But GS will be the real place to watch
her.


Journalist and editor
Amanda Ruggeri
writes for publications including the
BBC,
The Globe and Mail, and The New York
Times. After growing up skiing in Vermont and learning to
race on a tiny hill in Connecticut, she now lives in London,
where the snow is rare but the Alps are close. You can follow
her on
Twitter
and
Facebook
.

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