Alex Hoedlmoser

Laurenne Ross makes it 6-for-6

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?

Of course.

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.

Laurenne Ross celebrates her second-place finish on the famed Kandahar course with her U.S. teammates and coaches //  photo Mitchell Gunn/ESPA, courtesy U.S. Ski Team

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.


Lindsey Vonn makes like the Terminator: I'll be back

Lindsey Vonn, two or so weeks after ripping her right knee up in a gruesome fall at alpine skiing's world championships, said Friday she has no doubt she will be back for the Sochi 2014 Olympics. It's a race against time, one that positions Vonn, the 2010 Vancouver Games downhill champion, winner of 59 World Cup races and four World Cup overall titles, not just as an underdog but as the comeback story of the 2014 Games.

She made it plain Friday in a conference call with a group of selected reporters that it's a race she intends -- as usual -- to win.

"It all depends on me," she said. "I have to work hard and take my time and do it right. I can guarantee I will do that."

Lindsey Vonn's report to her thousands of Facebook friends -- note the wistful "long skirts this summer" hashtag ...

Vonn, 28, tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments and broke a lower leg bone during the super-G, the first race run at the 2013 worlds in Schladming, Austria.

She was critical Friday of race organizers. Fog, snow and clouds had made course conditions extraordinarily variable the day of Feb. 5, leaving athletes, coaches and staff unsettled for hours, wondering, obviously, was the race going to be run, or not?

Finally, the race was a go -- but, as Vonn noted, she had no idea what the snow itself was going to be like. Instead of being packed icy-hard the way it should be, it was "too soft," she said, "broken down," and when she flew too far off a jump, she hit a patch of loose snow, her right knee buckled and -- that was that.

As she was lying there in the snow, in pain, she recounted Friday, she told Alex Hoedlmoser, the U.S. women's alpine head coach, "They should stop the race right there."

They did not. Ultimately, however, the race was delayed 14 times due to the weather and called after 36 skiers. Tina Maze of Slovenia won, with Lara Gut of Switzerland second and American Julia Mancuso third.

Vonn flew back to the United States and, on Feb. 10, underwent surgery, performed at the Vail Valley Surgery Center by Dr. William Sterett.

It went, she said as expected -- the major issue the ACL. The MCL and bone break are, by comparison, relatively minor concerns.

If all goes well, Vonn added, she expects to be back on skis by November.

November? With the Olympics in February?

Perhaps, she said, a little sooner. Then again, maybe a little later.


Not to worry, Vonn said:

"I'm not extremely concerned when I'm going to be back. I just want to make sure that when I do get back my knee is 100 percent. It doesn't take a lot of training for me to be ready to race again."

She noted that knee injuries are something of a fact of life in alpine skiing and that she has taken comfort in seeing others -- in particular her very good friend, Germany's Maria Höfl-Riesch, winner of two golds in Vancouver, the 2011 World Cup season overall champion -- come back from knee injuries.

Höfl-Riesch told the Associated Press Friday in Meribel, France, that she is making plans to come visit Vonn after the World Cup season ends and expects Lindsey to come back strong:

"She's totally motivated, and I also know from my own [experience] that it's not so easy after injury to get full gas again. But I'm sure Lindsey's so strong she can get this feeling and the risk back pretty soon. Maybe at the beginning the first time on skis it will be difficult for her, too. But not for a long time."

Picabo Street, one of Vonn's childhood idols, busted up her knee in December 1996, then came back to win the super-G at the Nagano Games in February 1998. So, absolutely, it can be done.

"Picabo is definitely a great example of that," Lindsey Vonn said Friday. "As I said, I have no doubt I will be back and be able to ski the same if not better than I did before."


Resi Stiegler's "dream come true" breakthrough

In 2006, Resi Stiegler, born and raised in Jackson Hole, Wyo., raced at the Torino Winter Olympics. She was just a couple months past her 20th birthday. She took 11th in the combined, 12th in the slalom. The future seemed so bright. In October, 2007, she took fourth in the slalom at the World Cup stop in Reiteralm, Austria, just off the podium. Then came two more top-10 World Cup slalom finishes that December, one in Canada, the other in Aspen. Her breakthrough seemed -- right there.

It had to wait until Sunday.

In the interim, she has known pain and seen hospitals and rehab centers. Repeatedly.

Resi Stiegler is tough.

At the World Cup stop in Ofterschwang, Germany, skiing from bib 35, an almost-impossible position, and in slushy, warm snow, Stiegler raced Sunday to second-place, beaten only by five-hundredths of a second, by Canada's Erin Mielzynsky.

It was Mielzynsky's first World Cup podium finish, too. Her winning combined time over the two runs: 1:53.59. She became the first Canadian to win a World Cup slalom since 1971, according to the authoritative Hank McKee at

Austria's Marlies Schild, who has won all but one of the season's slalom races, finished third, two-hundredths of a second behind Stiegler.

Lindsey Vonn crashed in the first run. Vonn still holds a commanding lead in the overall standings; the tour now moves to Are, Sweden, for the final giant slalom and slalom races of the season. After that comes the World Cup finals in Schladming, Austria.

No one has ever doubted that Resi Stiegler had talent.

Or fantastic bloodlines. Her dad, Pepi, racing for Austria, is a three-time Olympic medalist. He won gold in the slalom in Innsbruck in 1964; in the giant slalom, he won silver in 1960 in Squaw Valley and bronze in 1964.

Beginning in December, 2007, Resi Stiegler has endured a string of injuries that are so freakishly bad, almost weird, it almost makes you wince just thinking about it.

That December, a crash in Lienz, Austria, sent her sliding under the fence and into the trees. She broke her left forearm and right shinbone and tore ligaments in her right knee. Here is video of the crash.

She returned in time for the 2009 world championships in Val d'Isere, France; there, French President Nikolas Sarkozy signed her racing bib.  A week later, she broke her foot and was out for the rest of the season.

In November, 2009, after competing in the early-season races in Soelden, Austria, and Levi, Finland, Stiegler, preparing for the U.S. World Cup stop in Aspen, fell while training in Colorado. She broke her left leg. That kept her out of the 2010 Olympics.

In a conference call Sunday, Stiegler talked at length about "growing up and having different thoughts than I had when I was 20."

She said, "This year was kind of that for me. I knew I had been skiing really fast. I didn't want to get just top-20, top-25. I wanted to be in the top-5. And I knew I was skiing well enough to do that.

"But to put it down on that day is a whole another mental game. For me, I had to learn how to focus in on -- what negative thoughts I didn't need, to think about something that was positive, just get the job done.  For me, that was the easiest way to overcome a lot of the negative mental activity I had, focusing on what I wanted to do, that I just wanted to have, an amazing run."

Stiegler's first run Sunday catapulted her from the 35th start slot into ninth, 82-hundredths back. Her second run shot her into the lead; only Mielzynsky would go faster.

Alex Hoedlmoser, the U.S. women's team's head coach, said in a statement that he was "super-, super-psyched for Resi," adding, "This is so amazing for her and it's hard to put it into words, actually."

Asked on that conference call if finishing in second place felt like first, Stiegler laughed.

"Yes, it did," she said. "I have visualized this since I was a child. I feel like I won. To me I don't feel like I -- you know, whether I got first or second or third today, the podium was a huge accomplishment.

"… I never in my wildest dreams thought it was going to happen this year. It's just a dream come true for me. Because the feeling is amazing."

A historic 50th for Lindsey Vonn

You wonder whether Lindsey Vonn is so good this season that the point has come whether she has simply imposed her will on everything and everyone around her. She did it again Saturday, winning the historic 50th World Cup victory of her career in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, even though temperatures in the Bavarian Alps were crazy cold and she had to survive a near-crash about halfway down.

Lindsey's winning time, in temperatures of -13 Fahrenheit, so cold that racers had to tape their faces to avoid frostbite, was 1:44.86. She trailed through the early intervals. Yet by the finish she was, again, first, and by almost half a second.

Nadja Kamer of Switzerland finished second, 41-hundredths of a second back. Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein crossed third, 79-hundredths back, for her third World Cup podium finish, all this season.

Last year's overall World Cup winner and a Garmisch local, Maria Höfl-Riesch, Lindsey's good friend and rival, finished fourth, in 1:45.85, 99-hundredths back.

At 27, Lindsey is the youngest woman to reach 50 World Cup victories. Only Annemarie Moser-Pröll of Austria, with 62, and Switzerland's Vreni Scheider, with 55, have more.

Of the three, Lindsey got to 50 the fastest, with just seven years between her first World Cup win and her 50th. It took Moser-Pröll eight years.

Men's racers with 50 or more victories: Ingemar Stenmark (86), Hermann Maier (54), Alberto Tomba (50).

"I mean, when I was a kid I dreamed of winning the Olympic gold medal and I wanted to ski like people like Alberto Tomba did," Lindsey said Saturday night from Garmisch on a conference call with a few American reporters. "But I never dreamed I would have reached the successes they reached in their careers.

"I still have a lot of years of racing in me. I have been at a loss for words all day. It definitely is something I never expected. It takes a lot of hard work to get to this many wins and it is a huge milestone in my career."

The Garmisch downhill, 1.8 miles long, is called the Kandahar. It's a course that, by now in her career, Lindsey knows well -- but, intriguingly, one she had never won.

Last year, they held the world championships on this course, and despite battling the effects of a concussion, Lindsey finished second.

All week, anticipation ran high that Lindsey would get that 50th victory. She had come oh-so-close to 50 last weekend in St. Moritz, Switzerland, winning first a super-combined (48), then a downhill (49) and then, last Sunday, coming in second, behind Höfl-Riesch in another super-combined by a mere three-hundredths of a second.

In Garmisch, there's an American military base essentially at the bottom of the run. During the week, Lindsey and others on the U.S. team had visited with some of the U.S. troops -- so she and the other American racers, as they always do there, had a built-in red, white and blue rooting crew.

Three other Americans finished Saturday in the top 15: Stacey Cook ninth, Laurenne Ross 10th, Julia Mancuso 13th. The U.S. women's team leads the downhill Nations Cup standing race -- over Austria -- by 433 points. Austria leads the overall standings with 3555 points, the Americans second with 2428.

At the second split, Lindsey trailed by 62-hundredths. Then came a bump about halfway down the course that saw Lindsey lose the inside edge of a ski and slide onto a hip and almost out of the race. Almost.

She recovered, found a line and made up time.

The U.S. head coach, Alex Hoedlmoser, who had been standing by the side of the course about 20 meters away from the spot where Lindsey almost went down, said afterward that watching her slip "stopped my heart a little bit."

But, he said, she "pulled it off like nobody else would."

She said, "I definitely gave the coaches a little bit of a scare there."

She also said, "I felt like I was down on my hip and then right back up again," the kind of mistake she has made before and assuredly will make again. "I do make mistakes quite a few times in downhill and super-G. I just have to keep my composure and ski the line I expect at maybe a more aggressive pace -- I have to keep my composure and keep going."

The victory Saturday was Lindsey's ninth -- already -- on the 2011-12 tour. She has won four downhills.

Of her 50 World Cup victories, 25 have been downhills.

Lindsey now has 1350 points for the season, a whopping 482-point lead over Tina Maze of Slovenia. Höfl-Riesch stands third with 746.

Lindsey leads the downhill points tally as well, by 230.

The next event: a super-G, on Sunday, still in Garmisch. Lindsey leads the super-G standings this season, too.

This season, of course, has come amid considerable turmoil in Lindsey's personal life. She split from her husband, Thomas. Lindsey's sister, Laura, was on hand in Garmisch as was her father, Alan Kildow, and stepmom. She said she was glad to be able to share the historic moment with family.

Make no mistake. The time that Lindsey gets on the mountain is, in many ways, sanctuary. When she's up there in that start gate, it just her and her very considerable will, alone.

The best two minutes of her day are coming right up. She couldn't be happier.

"I'm really enjoying skiing," she said in that conference call. "I feel like no matter what going on in my personal life I can put my skis on and go out and have fun.

"Skiing has been honestly the best thing for me in my life at this point. It's hard to describe. Things in the personal front aren't any better than they were a few months ago. I feel very clear-minded when I'm skiing. I enjoy it … it's just a different state of mind."

Thud of a World Cup ski season ending

In an anticlimactic thud of an ending to one of the most exciting alpine ski seasons ever, Germany's Maria Riesch on Saturday beat her very good friend, American Lindsey Vonn, for the women's World Cup overall title when crummy weather forced the cancellation of the year's final race, a giant slalom. How thoroughly, profoundly unsatisfying.

"Win or lose," Vonn said afterward, "I just wanted the chance. I feel devastated.

"The cancellation of this race doesn't just hurt me. It hurts the fans and the sport of ski racing as a whole."

Indeed, that is the bottom line.

Not to take anything away from Riesch.

She finished with 1,728 points.

Vonn ended up with 1,725.

Riesch's victory marks the first time a German has won the women's World Cup overall since Katja Seizinger in 1998. That's a big deal.

To be very, very clear: This is not about Riesch. Kudos to her. Over the course of the season, she amassed enough points to prevail, and that's how the system works.

But like all systems, with rules and regulations,  you have to ask whether it produced an outcome that served its stakeholders well. Who feels good about this?

Vonn had launched one of the great late-season charges in World Cup history, her charge launched in a bizarre way by an early February concussion. The concussion forced her to take time off. After she felt better, she said many times, she decided she had nothing to lose -- and so she decided to just let it rip.

In late February, at the World Cup stop in Sweden, Vonn was 216 points down.

Then, though, after a great weekend in Tarvisio, Italy, just 96. Then, after a stop in the Czech Republic, 23.

The tour moved this week to the World Cup finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, and after the first of four scheduled races, a downhill won by American Julia Mancuso, Vonn fourth, Riesch 17th, Vonn found herself back in the overall lead, with 1,725 points, Riesch with 1,678.

Weather forced the cancellation of the next event, the super-G, arguably Vonn's best event. She had clinched the season's super-G title two weeks before, along with the downhill and super-combined crowns. That super-G cancellation probably deprived Vonn of critical points.

They managed to run, albeit on a shortened course, the third race of the four on the schedule, a slalom. Vonn finished 13th, Riesch fourth, enough to put Riesch back on top in the overall standings by -- three points.

Pending the fourth, and final, race, the giant slalom.

At the Czech World Cup stop, last week in Spindleruv Mlyn,  Vonn's third-place in the GS was the very first of her career. So she might well have been looking at points in the GS as well.

"I'm really disappointed (Thursday's) race was canceled," Vonn had said, looking around at the yucky weather in Lenzerheide, adding about Saturday, "I really hope they try, because I know I have a chance."

Thirty years from now, when Maria and Lindsey are sitting around the Christmas tree, reminiscing about their years dominating the ski circuit, and the 2011 season comes up, and the kids with their shiny faces say, tell us the story again about how it was that Grandma Lindsey won three straight World Cup overalls in 2008 and 2009 and 2010 and then in 2011 Grandma Maria beat Grandma Lindsey by three points for the championship but is it true, Grandma Lindsey, that you didn't even get the chance to race Grandma Maria on the very last day to find out who was best?

How's that going to go over around the Christmas table?

Right. Which is why this situation should never, ever be allowed to happen again.

There has to be a better way. Not saying the answer is immediately apparent.  Just saying there has to be a better way because, as Vonn points out, alpine racing is an extraordinary sport and yet it struggles for attention outside the Olympic spotlight. This is the sort of thing that does not lend it credibility.

Indeed, this -- to relate it in terms an American audience might understand -- is like the baseball version of a five-inning no-hitter. It counts but -- yech.

"I think they could have been working on [the course] like they did yesterday," to get it ready for the slalom, the U.S. women's head coach Alex Hoedlmoser, said Saturday. "I have the feeling they didn't try everything."

Query: Why, in Switzerland, of all places, was there not sufficient snow-making equipment on hand -- or, for that matter, stored-up snow -- to ensure a suitable course?

Or are these finals a clear sign of the ominous global warming issues that have been an undercurrent of the World Cup circuit for the past several years? If that's the case, perhaps some good might come out of this thud of an ending. Maybe it could serve as the spark for a meaningful, high-level FIS-led analysis of climate change and whether the federation's rules ought to be reviewed to allow for winners to be decided where they ought to be decided.

On the mountain.

To ask a simple question: Shouldn't that be obvious?