SCHLADMING, Austria - The U.S. is leading skiing's world championships. And, as the Austrian hosts see it, the Americans can thank none other than the Austrians.
Led by Ted Ligety's two golds, plus a bronze from Julia Mancuso, the U.S. is first in the medals standings after seven of 11 events. The results are all the more impressive considering that Lindsey Vonn had a season-ending crash in the opening event and Bode Miller is taking this season off to recover from knee surgery.
But Peter Schroecksnadel, the powerful president of the Austrian ski federation, credits the handful of Austrian coaches on the U.S. team. And he's quick to point out that the Americans have a big Austrian sponsor and an in-season base, the Soelden ski area that hosts the opening World Cup races each season.
"The U.S. ski team is Austria II, like in bobsledding," Schroecksnadel told the regional newspaper Tiroler Tageszeitung in comments widely carried by other Austria media outlets. "Austrian money, Austrian coaches. They live here. They were only born there."
Ligety's victories in super-G and super-combined have been aided by new U.S. speed coach Andreas Evers, who joined the American squad before this season after helping the likes of Stephan Eberharter, Hermann Maier and Benjamin Raich to more than 100 World Cup wins during the last 17 seasons in various positions on the staff of the Austrian "Wunderteam."
U.S. Alpine director Patrick Riml is also Austrian, as is women's head coach Alex Hoedlmoser, women's technical head coach Roland Pfeifer, assistant women's speed coach Andi Moser and men's World Cup B coach Bernd Brunner.
But more than a dozen other U.S. coaches are American, including men's head coach Sasha Rearick and men's technical head coach Mike Day, who has worked with Ligety since the skier was 16.
"I'm mostly on the tech side and most of the coaches I work with are American," Ligety said Tuesday. "I work a little bit with (Evers) and they do a good job for sure but I think it takes the whole coaching staff. It's not like all of a sudden I'm way better this year than I have been before. They've definitely helped but I'm not going to sit here and give Austrian coaches all the credit."
Schroecksnadel and Austrian Alpine director Hans Pum have faced criticism after the hosts failed to land a single medal in the speed events of downhill and super-G - for men or women - for the first time since the 1987 worlds in Crans-Montana, Switzerland.
Until winning Tuesday's team event, all the Austrians had to show for the first week were two bronzes from Nicole Hosp and Romen Baumann in the super combined.
In his first event of the championships, overall World Cup leader Marcel Hirscher led Austria in the team event and will be Ligety's top challenger in Friday's giant slalom. Ligety has won four of the five World Cup races in the discipline so far this season.
Mancuso could be a medal contender in giant slalom, too, having won gold in that event at the 2006 Turin Olympics. And American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin will be a threat in slalom, having won three races this season.
"Have you seen the motto of the U.S. ski team? It says, 'Best in the World,"' Ligety said. "We've set goals."
And what about that in-season base in Soelden?
"Well, unfortunately we don't have much of a choice, because most of the racing in Europe happens in Austria," Ligety said in response to an Austrian journalist. "I'm from Park City, Utah, and that's a long ways away from any of the racing on World Cup other than Beaver Creek (Colo.)."
Ligety credits his formative years in the U.S. for his ability to handle racing in Europe.
"When I was 14 I traveled two to 14 hours every weekend to go ski race. That's a bigger traveling regimen than Marcel Hirscher has now as a World Cup racer," Ligety said. "The only people that can survive in American ski racing are the people that can be laid back and deal with that kind of stressful situations and sacrifices. In a way, we're all a product of the environment we grew up in."
Pfeifer, a former World Cup skier for Austria who has been working almost exclusively with Shiffrin, credits her success to her parents and the American coaches who laid her foundation.
"She really learned to ski well between 8 and 12," Pfeifer said. "Her coach made clear to her that the shaky style of skiing with lots of movement from the arms and the upper body doesn't work. Her parents are hard workers and realists. They taught her that you have to work hard to learn something properly."