The U.S. women’s ski team is so deep that three weeks ago coaches had to make a difficult choice about who to leave off the start list for the downhill at the world championships in Schladming, Austria.
Ultimately, they decided, reluctantly, that Laurenne Ross would be the one who wouldn’t go.
So who takes second Saturday in a World Cup downhill at the famed Kandahar course in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, site of the 2011 worlds?
Tina Maze of Slovenia won the race in 1:40.46, adding to her historic season — she now has 2,024 World Cup points, most ever, more than Austria’s Hermann Maier’s previous-best 2,000 in 2000. Maze has totally locked up the World Cup overall title and there are still seven races yet to go.
Ross finished 39-hundredths back, in 1:40.85. Local girl Maria Höfl-Riesch, the 2011 World Cup overall winner, took third, half a second behind in 1:40.96.
Ross became the sixth American woman to finish in a World Cup top-three this season in the downhill or super-G.
Before the start of the 2012-13 season, the U.S. women’s speed team, led by coach Chip White, set a goal of landing all six on the podium.
Alex Hoedlmoser, the U.S. team’s head coach, went up to White after Saturday’s racing was done and said, “We did it,” adding a moment alter, “This is really promising as we look ahead to Sochi,” and the 2014 Winter Games next February.
On the tech side, meanwhile, Mikaela Shiffrin has won three World Cup slalom races; Shiffrin also won the slalom in Schladming at the world championships.
The race Saturday marked the first top-three World Cup finish of Ross’ career. She joins Stacey Cook, Leanne Smith and Alice McKennis as first-time podium finishers.
Lindsey Vonn — who tore up her right knee in the super-G in early February in the first race of the world championships — has three downhill victories this season; Julia Mancuso has three super-G podium finishes and, as well, a super-G borne at the world championships.
Vonn, who obviously has missed the last two downhill races, nonetheless still leads the World Cup downhill standings, by all of one point. Maze is second. There’s one race remaining.
The race Saturday played out in two different acts.
Act one was consumed by fog. It stayed that way through McKennis’ run. She started with bib number 12. Entering the final “Tauber Schuss,” she crashed — hard — and was airlifted by helicopter to a local hospital, where doctors found she broke a bone in her lower right leg.
Act two was everything that followed. By the time the race started again, the mountain was splashed in sunshine, the visibility perfect, the racing so much faster.
Maze ran 18th, Ross 26th, Höfl-Riesch 20th.
Ross’ previous best finish had been fourth, in a super-G, two seasons ago.
“I just put it all out on the line and I’m psyched,” she said.