SOELDEN, Austria — Tina Maze has improved one place in the World Cup standings each year — from fourth in 2010 to winning it last season.
Is there a way she could top it this season? Yes, with her first Olympic gold medal.
The competition considers the Slovenian the favorite for the overall title again. On Saturday, the ski season gets underway with the giant slalom on Rettenbach glacier.
Four-time former overall champion Lindsey Vonn will skip the event. She’ll debut next month after recovering from knee surgery.
Instead, Maze will face Vonn’s teammates Julia Mancuso and Mikaela Shiffrin, who finished fourth and fifth in the overall standings last season. They hope to gain ground on Maze, starting with the GS.
“Tina is definitely favorite,” Mancuso said. “We had the big rule change on GS skis last year and she proved to have figured it out. She is right there and the person to look out for and try to beat.”
Maze, who turned 30 in May, won 11 races last season, taking the GS and super-G titles, and racking up a record points total of 2,414. She also became only the sixth female skier to win events in every Alpine discipline, with Vonn the only other active achiever.
“Last season, I didn’t focus on the points (total) or the number of podiums,” Maze said. “I just focused on racing and that’s what I want do again this year.”
Maze capped her season by winning super-G gold and two bronze medals at the world championships in Schladming, Austria.
“Not for Lindsey or for Maria (Hoefl-Riesch, the 2011 overall champion), but it was important to me that I showed who is the best skier,” she said. “Still, you can always do better.”
Last season, Maze succeeded Vonn, who had won the overall title four times in five years.
The American has recovered from her season-ending right knee injury sustained at worlds in February. Vonn decided to postpone her return a month and ski on Nov. 29 in Beaver Creek, Colo.
“It was her own decision,” U.S. women’s head coach Alex Hoedlmoser said. “She’s experienced enough to know what she can do and what she can’t. ... If you want to race, you want to be competitive. She knew that she’s missing training days — everybody knew.”
Vonn returned from Austria to Colorado on Wednesday and will resume training for her first speed events.
Shiffrin, coming off her breakthrough year which included the slalom World Cup and world championship titles, said she’s been “working hard on my GS and I feel like I’ve made a lot of improvements, so it’s just a matter of racing now ... I don’t have any expectations.”
Hoefl-Riesch was Maze’s closest challenger last season, finishing runner-up but trailing the Slovenian by a massive 1,313 points.
“After last season, who else could be favorite?” the German said. “Her strength was her consistency, which really lasted for the entire season. It won’t be easy for her to repeat that.”