Forecast for Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn looks strong
The United States Women’s Ski Team might be the best two-person squad the world has to offer.
Italy’s probably the deepest squad in women’s World Cup skiing, but nobody has a 1-2 punch like Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, and the show starts in earnest this weekend.
Vonn seems to have escaped preseason training without incident — a broken arm sidelined her for the first half of 2016-17 — and Shiffrin enters the season as the defending World Cup champion at the precocious age of 22.
What do we expect this winter from these two?
DEFENDING THE GLOBE
There are two reasons one has to like Shiffrin’s chances of repeating as the overall and slalom champ.
Madame is ridiculously consistent and still expanding her skill set.
Yes, she had a career-high 11 World Cup wins last season, but, more importantly in the pursuit of an overall, she had one DNF in 28 starts, a count which included five speed events where one might expect her to stumble. (Her DNF was in a slalom in Zagreb, Croatia on Jan. 3.)
Her “worst” finishes in tech events were two sixth-place finishes in giant slaloms in Sestriere, Italy, on Dec. 10, 2016, and in Aspen on March 19 at the World Cup Finals after she had already clinched the overall title.
A racer has to finish races to stay in the overall hunt and when your bad days still produce 40 points toward your total, you’re in good shape.
Now, narrow it down to slalom. In the nine of those races last winter, she won six times, finished second once, third once and had the DNF. That’s 740 out of possible 900 points, and Shiffrin’s probably still hacked about the DNF.
In 10 GS races, she had three more wins and never finished worse than sixth. That was 600 out of a possible 1,000 points.
Her 1,340 points from tech events alone would have won her the overall globe over runner-up, Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec (1,325).
And this is where Shiffrin’s gradual foray into speed events could make her all but unbeatable in her defense of the crown.
While all eyes will be on Vonn at Lake Louise, Alberta, Friday through Sunday, Dec. 1-3, save some viewing for Shiffrin.
She was 18th and 13th in the Canadian downhills last year. If Shiffrin can start to move those results into the top 10, then she’s really starting to pad her lead.
More points may come in super-G and combined races. Shiffrin was fourth in the Cortina, Italy, super-G and won her first combi in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, last season.
My bet is that the next step is competing in the two combined events this season — Friday, Dec. 8, in St. Moritz, Switzerlad, and March 4, back in Crans-Montana. All Shiffrin needs to do is stay within 1.5 seconds of the lead after the speed event, and crush the slalom, the latter not being hard to imagine, and she’s getting top 10 points or wins.
Her continuing expansion may allow Shiffrin to run away with the overall this winter.
VONN VS. STENMARK
Please doubt her — she’s too old, too frail.
Since her right knee blew up in the 2013 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Schladming, Austria, Vonn’s won 18 World Cup races.
She’s had a very good career after what would have been a career-ending injury for most.
This speaks to the fire, the desire she has to compete. She lives to click into her skis and beat the tar out the competition.
Yes, the last three seasons haven’t been as utterly dominant as her years before her knee went kablooey, but pre-kablooey is pretty high standard.
Vonn, knock on wood, is healthy. No broken arm this year, she gets to race in Lake Louise, Alberta, and that’s “Lake Lindsey” for a reason.
She has 18 wins there, 25 podiums and has swept all three races in Canada three times (2011, 2012 and 2015).
Fun fact: She has 19 straight top 10 finishes dating back to 2007 in Lake Louise in starts when she is not trying to rush back from an exploded-knee injury. (In 2013, she finished fifth in the super-G, essentially skiing in one leg.)
A conservative prediction is Vonn wins at least once in Lake Louise during the first weekend of December.
She enters the season with 77 wins. My bet is that she leaves Canada with 80, six short of Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark’s mark of 86 World Cup wins.
The race is on.
I also can see Vonn reclaiming the globes in downhill and super-G. She finished fourth in the downhill points last year and only competed in five of eight events on the schedule.
This year, there are nine downhills and seven super-Gs on the slate. In eight of the last 10 years, the exceptions being 2014 (knee) and 2017 (arm), she’s won at least six times annually.
Six would be a bad year. Vonn wins 10 times this season and clips Stenmark.
Both Vonn and Shiffrin will head to Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the Winter Games as poster people for the team.
Book Shiffrin for winning slalom gold. She doesn’t know pressure. We all remember shots of her taking a nap between runs at Worlds here in 2015.
The bigger question is GS and what will be her season-long battle with France’s Tessa Worley.
And Vonn isn’t leaving her what will likely be her last Olympics without hardware. Call it gold in the super-G.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.