Last summer, before dominating the London Games, the U.S. swim team memorably made a just-for-fun video of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”
This winter, the U.S. women’s ski team is on a killer roll, underscored by yet another memorable performance Saturday, when Lindsey Vonn won the downhill at Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, with Leanne Smith third.
That came after Tuesday’s night slalom at Flachau, Austria. There, 17-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin picked up her third World Cup victory in her first full year on tour.
Just like the swim team last summer, the skiers will be among the primary U.S. stars next February at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Again, just like the swim team, the ski team’s success is rooted in the same fundamentals. There’s a strong management team. Great coaches. Obvious talent. And, now the final piece of the puzzle — a winning culture, the kind of thing the swim video made plain.
The ski team has it, too, and that came shining through in a long, long answer to a reporter’s question after Saturday’s downhill in Italy. Revealingly, it came not from Vonn but from Smith. The reporter asked about a “family feeling” on the team.
Here is what she said:
“Yesterday, we were talking about on the bus at lunch how often we have been asked this question. And we were trying to come up with ways to — things to say in response to that. And, first, we were like, ‘We listen to Justin Bieber — Justin Bieber together.’ Or, ‘Like, we all sleep in one big bed every night.’ Or, ‘We have like these crazy rituals.’
“No, there are a lot of hard workers on this team. Everybody wants to help each other out and see each other do well and the hard work, whether it be in the gym in the summer or training in Portillo [in Chile] or in New Zealand and the working and the racing and being confident — as, you know, in any sport or skiing, in particular, and all the variables and things that come at you every day, you need to in the right mind state. You need to be confident in your abilities.
“When you see a teammate come down and be on the podium, you’re like, ‘Oh, I can do that, too.’ You know? You train with Lindsey and Julia [Mancuso], every day, you watch them ski, you see what they do, you can try to emulate that, because obviously they have had a lot of success in the past, and are very experienced. They have been on the World Cup tour for a long time so there is a lot to be taken from them. And — it’s kind of nice to be on the U.S. team right now, I have to say. We’re having fun, that’s for sure.”
Shiffrin — who spent most of Tuesday doing homework for school before winning the race that night — now leads the World Cup slalom standings. She has also won races in Are, Sweden, and Zagreb, Croatia, and has won $175,000 for the season.
“Maybe I will make a trip to Maui,” she said Tuesday. “I am a 17-year-old. What do I have to do with money? Let’s save it up for retirement.”
Smith’s third-place made for her second podium finish of the year. She took second in the downhill in Val d’Isere in mid-December.
Vonn’s win Saturday was her fifth of the season, the 58th of her career. She now stands just four short of the women’s all-time record, held by Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Pröll.
Vonn, hospitalized in November with an intestinal illness, failed to finish two races in France in December and then left the tour for nearly a month. She missed six starts. In her first races back last weekend, in St. Anton, Austria, she finished sixth in Saturday’s downhill and fourth in Sunday’s super-G.
Alice McKennis won the St. Anton downhill.
Stacey Cook finished second to Vonn twice in downhills run in Lake Louise, Canada, in December.
It’s the first time four different American women have finished top-three in a downhill in a single season on tour. A look at the World Cup downhill points standings shows Vonn first, Cook second, McKennis fourth, Smith sixth, Mancuso 11th and Laurenne Ross 21st.
Meanwhile, the Cortina super-G — a race Vonn has won the last three years — is due to be run Sunday. She said, “I finally feel like myself again.”