What to watch for at Skiing World Championships
It’s ski racing’s biggest event outside the Olympics and comes with the cachet of a world title to wear with pride for the next two years.
Alpine skiing’s FIS World Championships take place in Are, Sweden over the next two weeks with legends to be forged, names to be made and scores to be settled.
The event will also mark the end of an era — American great Lindsey Vonn will retire from ski racing after Sunday’s downhill because of the ravages the sport and its spills have taken on her body over the years. And fellow speedster Aksel Lund Svindal, Norway’s Olympic downhill champion, is also bowing out following an illustrious but injury-plagued career.
But very much at the top of their games are slalom specialists Mikaela Shiffrin and Marcel Hirscher, both bidding to add more gloss to glittering careers and defend the world titles they won in St. Moritz, Switzerland two years ago.
Here’s the top-five talking points for skiing’s World Championships.
So long, Lindsey
The 34-year-old Vonn has enjoyed a stunning career and amassed a remarkable 82 World Cup victories to sit second on the all-time list behind Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark.
Despite a catalogue of injuries, she was determined to give it one final shot at passing Stenmark’s record this season, but Vonn has finally succumbed to her ailing body.
“My body is broken beyond repair and it isn’t letting me have the final season I dreamed of,” she wrote on Facebook Friday. “My body is screaming at me to STOP and it’s time for me to listen.”
The American won super-G and downhill world titles in 2009, and fought back from injury to clinch bronze in the Olympic downhill in Pyeongchang in 2018 to add to downhill gold and super-G bronze in Vancouver in 2010. Despite only competing once this season because of a knee injury, a farewell world title is not beyond the realms of possibility.
But Vonn will still bid the sport goodbye as the most successful female ski racer of all time.
Svindal is one of the most dominant men’s skiers of his generation with 36 World Cup wins and five world titles.
He won three medals, including super-G gold, at the Vancouver 2010 Games and became skiing’s oldest gold medalist with victory in the blue riband downhill at the age of 35 last year.
A serious knee injury in a season-ending crash at Kitzbuhel in 2016 has left him unable to train much in recent seasons, reserving his efforts for race day.
He won a super-G at Val Gardena, Italy in December, but Svindal — one of Norway’s “Attacking Vikings” — accepts the end is nigh.
Her dominance this season has resonated way beyond skiing and drawn comparisons with greats from other sports.
The 23-year-old has won 11 of her last 14 World Cup races and 13 in all this season to climb to third on the women’s all-time list of most successful ski racers with 56 victories, just six short of Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Proell (62) and hard on the heels of Vonn.
Shiffrin won her first ever World Cup race as a 17-year-old in Are in December 2012, and returns to the Swedish venue bidding for a fourth consecutive slalom world title.
Her main rival this season has been Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, who has pipped Shiffrin twice but otherwise ended as runner-up six other times behind the American. The pair even clocked a dual victory with a dead heat in a giant slalom in Maribor last week.
An out-of-sorts Shiffrin missed a slalom medal completely in the South Korea Olympics, but she clinched giant slalom gold and will also be overwhelming favorite in that discipline in Are.
Among the main challengers will be Vlhova, France’s Tessa Worley and Italian Federica Brignone.
Hirscher is one of Austria’s biggest stars and the pre-eminent male ski racer of his generation, and he goes to Are looking to defend his slalom and giant slalom crowns.
The 29-year-old, a six-time world champion across various disciplines, has been simply stunning in skiing’s technical events over the years and is well on his way to an unprecedented eight straight World Cup overall title. He has scored 68 World Cup wins and counting and could be the one to pass Stenmark.
Like Shiffrin, his Olympic slalom ambitions crashed in Pyeongchang, but he hit back with a first ever Games gold in the giant slalom and added a win in the combined.
Hirscher and his wife Laura had a baby boy last summer, but his fire seems undimmed and he has won 10 times this season to keep the competition at arms’ length.
Hirscher’s long-time rival Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway has been close without really challenging this season, but rising French star Clement Noel and Swiss Daniel Yule have taken up the chase in slalom.
Frenchman Alexis Pinturault and Austrian Marco Schwarz could be the dangers in giant slalom.
Swiss Beat Feuz is the defending world champion and arguably the most likely to deprive Svindal of a fairy tale send-off in Are.
The 31-year-old bagged bronze in downhill and silver in super-G in Pyeongchang and has scored five podiums this season including a downhill victory in Beaver Creek. He was also third in Are in the World Cup finals downhill last March.
Joint winners that day were Austrian Vincent Kriechmayr, who this season took the honours on the leg-jellying Lauberhorn in Wengen, the longest and fastest track on the circuit, and former Olympic downhill champion Matthias Mayer of Austria.
Other names to watch are Italian Dominik Paris, who scorched to a third Kitzbuhel victory on the legendary Hahnekamm course in January, compatriot Christof Innerhofer and Svindal’s team-mate Kjetil Jansrud.
Into the Vonn void
While Vonn will give it her all, and Shiffrin will only race super-G of the speed disciplines, the most likely contenders in the women’s downhill will be defending champion Ilkha Stuhec of Slovenia and World Cup standings leader Nicole Schmidhofer of Austria.
However, Czech phenomenon Ester Ledecka may not be in the form to emulate her Olympic success when she shocked the world by clinching downhill gold followed by gold in snowboarding’s parallel giant slalom.
The 23-year-old has struggled somewhat on skis this season with a best of eighth in a downhill in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.