U.S. Ski Team’s depth — wow

The stars of the U.S. Ski Team delivered this weekend. So, too, did some up-and-comers, and that’s why the U.S. Ski Team is now, truly, one of the best in the world.

It’s not some advertising slogan anymore or some pumped-up corporate motto or even some “let’s get the troops fired up so everyone who works here might one day believe it” kind of deal.

It’s fact.

It’s one thing to see Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso and Ted Ligety on the podium. Each is a proven talent, a star at the top of the game.

But Nolan Kasper in second place? And — in the slalom? Only one word will do to describe that: wow.

Nolan Kasper, first American male slalom racer on the podium since Bode Miller // photo: US Ski Team

The good news didn’t stop there: Laurenne Ross came in fourth in the super-G, behind Vonn, Mancuso and Germany’s Maria Riesch.

Over the course of the past three Olympic Games, Vonn, Mancuso, Ligety and, of course, Bode Miller have firmly established the U.S. team as a genuine force in alpine skiing.

Here, then, is the top line from this weekend, the men racing in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, the women in Tarvisio, Italy:

Vonn secured three World Cup season titles — downhill, super-G and super-combined. She also cut the lead that Riesch holds in the overall to 96 points; six races remain.

And this:

Ligety took third in Friday’s giant slalom, his speciality. He is now the clear favorite to win the season GS championship.

Mancuso’s second in the super-G,  meanwhile, continued her first-rate season.

Of course, the challenge for any program is to move beyond individual excellence — to develop a pipeline of ongoing talent. The emergence of Andrew Weibrecht, who earned a bronze medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, suggested the U.S. team was indeed on the way.

Weibrecht, injured, has missed this season. Now come, among others, Kasper and Ross.

“My god, how cool — we were all, all the girls were in the hotel lobby watching his run and we were so fired up,” Vonn said, referring to Kasper’s slalom silver. “I mean — the whole restaurant was staring at us; we were screaming pretty loud.”

Mancuso, referring to Ross, said, “It was awesome .. special … so super-cool.”

Ross is 22. She writes a super-interesting and -thoughtful blog.

She said of being fourth: “I’m not disappointed. it would have been nice to have been third but …  this is my first top five, this is my first top 10, this is my first top 15 in a World Cup,.”

Noting her 10th-place finish in the downhill at last month’s world championships in Germany, she went on to say, “This is my first time being in there, really, at a World Cup. I’m psyched with fourth. At least now I know I can be in there. I’m OK with Lindsey and Julia and Maria beating me. They’re really good skiers. I’m psyched to be in there with them.”

As for the 21-year-old Kasper — if you have been following the season closely, you could see this coming.

He has, as he said afterward, been going fast in training. He notched a couple top-15 slalom finishes, then came in 10th last week. A close dissection of the stats shows that the 13th he earned on Jan. 25 in Schladming, Austria, included the second-fastest time on the second run.

Nearly 40 other racers went out Sunday. Kasper, though, turned it on, U.S. men’s head coach Sasha Rearick afterward calling Kasper’s performance “some of the most impressive skiing of the season by any athlete of the World Cup — he took some chances, put pressure on the right spots and went really fast.”

Austria’s Mario Matt won the race, Kasper nine-hundredths back.

Miller was the last American male to finish in the top three in a World Cup slalom race, in 2008.

The last time before that, per the authority, Ski Racing magazine’s online edition:

Felix McGrath, in 1988.

Again, from Ski Racing: “Kasper’s name now joins those of American legends from the early days of the World Cup, when slalom podiums where more routine:  From ’67 to ’72 Tyler Palmer, Bob Cochran, Rich Chaffee, Bill Kidd, Spider Sabich and Jimmy Huega all picked up podiums. And, of course, Phil and Steve Mahre got a full share in the late ’70s and early ’80s, retiring in 1984.”

Wow.

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