When the Austrians throw a ski party, make no mistake. It's great. They're super-glad to welcome friends and visitors. But they expect, indeed demand, victory. Alpine racing in Austria is like the NFL in the United States. It's what they do. It doesn't get any bigger. It's why, at the opening ceremony of the world championships a couple days ago in Schladming, the Herminator -- famed racer Hermann Maier -- shared the stage with the Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenneger, the Austrian-born actor and former California governor.
After two races at the worlds, the Austrians are oh-for-six while the U.S Ski Team, capped by Ted Ligety's stunning win Wednesday in the super-G, already has two medals. Julia Mancuso took third Tuesday in the women's super-G.
There are many races yet to go at these championships. But even with the season-ending injury that Lindsey Vonn suffered Tuesday, even with Bode Miller taking a little time off, let there be no doubt:
The U.S. team is deep and capable, and building with purpose toward the Sochi 2014 Games, which start in exactly one year.
Ligety's winning time, in front of a crowd of 24,000 people: 1:23.96. France's Gauthier De Tessieres -- a late starter, replacing an injured teammate -- took a surprise second, 20-hundredths of a second back. Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, winner of three of four World Cup super-Gs this season, was third, another two-hundredths back.
American Thomas Biesemeyer finished 13th; Ryan Cochran-Siegle, after starting 25th, finished 15th.
Another American, Andrew Weibrecht, bronze medalist in the super-G at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, was challenging for a medal but missed a gate near the end.
"Weibrecht's skiing today was awesome -- fantastic skiing," U.S. head coach Sasha Rearick said afterward. "Unfortunately, he got a little bit unlucky on one turn there at the bottom.
"Biesemeyer did a great job coming back from injury to get into the points [meaning the World Cup start list] and RCS, starting in the back -- where people had no chance -- he skied great, excellent execution. For a 21-year-old kid to do that, here at the world champs, is really, really fun to see. Awesome momentum-building."
As for Ligety: the victory marked his first super-G win, ever.
At any race level.
This from a skier who is an Olympic gold-medalist in the combined (2006), world champion in the giant slalom (2011) and three-time World Cup season GS title winner.
This season, Ligety had continued his giant slalom dominance -- he leads the GS points race by 125, over Austria's Marcel Hirscher -- but had stepped up his game in other disciplines, super-G in particular, with a sixth at Kitzbühel and two fourth-place finishes.
He had written on his blog last week about the course at Schladming, "I'm one of the better guys in super-G, and that super-G hill in Schladming is steep and technical, giving me a very good chance of medaling."
Just to show you how difficult the alpine game can be, however, it's not just that the course is steep and technical, or that the light can be flat, which it was Wednesday -- there are variables the real pros, like Ligety, have to learn to master.
The course Wednesday featured 42 gates. Who set the course? Norway coach Tron Moger. He also fixed the gates when Svindal won the super-G in Val Gardena, Italy, in December.
Svindal later said, as Associated Press reported, "I took a lot of risks and had a small mistake at the end. The conditions were OK but not ideal. With this [low] light, you don't see the bumps. I am satisfied. Ted did just great."
What Ligety did seems risky but actually makes total sense. He used his giant slalom skills to shave time at the bottom, where it was steeper. That's where he won the race.
"The bottom I knew I could make up time -- it suited my technique," Ligety said. "I took a lot of risk. It was a good day."
Twelve years ago, the Austrians thought they had the super-G wired at the 2001 world championships in their backyard, in St. Anton. American Daron Rahlves came in and won it.
"Ted has been skiing great. All season he has been charging -- clean skiing and with the confidence to take it down the hill at super-G speeds," Rearick said, adding a moment later, "We had a great training camp leading into here. He came in skiing with confidence and executed great skiing. When you put those things together -- why not?"