Future shines bright for U.S. Ski Team | SummitDaily.com

Future shines bright for U.S. Ski Team

United States' Mikaela Shiffrin celebrates her win in the women’s slalom competition at the Alpine skiing world championships on Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015, in Beaver Creek, Colo. (AP Photo/John Locher)

BEAVER CREEK — The final day of the world ski championships offered time to reflect on two weeks of fabulous races on outstanding courses, beautifully prepared. It was a time to celebrate medals won by American veterans Lindsey Vonn and Ted Ligety, emerging star Travis Ganong and hometown girl Mikaela Shiffrin in her final month as a “teen phenom.”

But it also was a day to think about the future, especially for those who call Colorado home.

One of the most notable aspects of the Vail Valley’s third world championships was the overwhelming support of fans who filled the grandstand to overflowing day after day. And perhaps it was in those stands where the true legacy of these world championships will be written.

“There were kids up there that said, ‘I want to be like Lindsey and Ted and Travis and Mikaela,’ “ said Tiger Shaw, chief executive of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. “The Park City (Utah) ski team came all the way over here, a seven-hour drive. There are ski teams from all over Colorado here. Hopefully in about 10 years, if we’re back here, they’re winning medals and Ted and Lindsey will be on the sidelines, watching and cheering them on.”

Not Shiffrin. She still will be in her 20s in 2025.

Vail’s first world championships, in 1989, were a success in every respect except attendance. Crowds for the 1999 event were excellent, and this year’s were exceptional. Overall attendance is expected to approach 130,000.

“We are thrilled with the championships,” said Sarah Lewis, secretary general of the International Ski Federation. “They have certainly exceeded our expectations in terms of the fantastic engagement from the crowds, the way they’ve flocked and filled the stadiums every day.”

Europeans can be notoriously proprietary about alpine skiing — Austrians can rightly claim to have invented it — but Beaver Creek won their respect long ago. They came here expecting quality, and Beaver Creek delivered again.

“It’s really good,” said Hans Pum, sports director for the Austrian Ski Federation. “We are lucky with the weather, but the slopes are perfect. For me, the Birds of Prey (men’s course) and also the new ladies’ downhill is one of the best in the world. Everything is perfect — the snow conditions, the weather, the course, the organization is run well. And there is a very good atmosphere in the finish area.”

For Team USA, things went about as well as could be expected given the condition of Vonn’s right knee and Bode Miller’s aching back.

Many knew it would take a miracle for Miller to win a medal, given that he hadn’t competed in almost a year because of November back surgery. He nearly delivered one, leading the super-G before a spectacular crash ended his season.

Many didn’t know Vonn’s surgically repaired knee would act up after racing on bumpy ice for the first time in more than two years, but she did contribute a bronze medal in super-G.

Ganong, 26, came to Beaver Creek looking like a man ready to take his place among the best in his sport, and he came through with a silver medal in downhill. Teammate Steve Nyman finished fourth that day, missing a medal by 0.03 of a second.

Then on back-to-back days, Ligety won in giant slalom and Shiffrin in slalom. They knew it wasn’t just about them, though. It was also about inspiring young racers who were in the stands or watching on HDTV across the country.

“The last worlds here, I was (almost) 4 years old, so I didn’t really remember anything,” Shiffrin said. “If I was 8, 9, 10, 11 years old and had a world championships in my country, that would have been so inspirational. The U.S., it’s so big that you feel really disconnected. You almost feel like there’s no chance … to get to the World Cup because you’re so far from it.

“In Europe, World Cup ski racing is just there, all winter. I’m really glad that (her win) and with Ted’s victory, we were able to hopefully inspire those young kids. I know how inspired I was by Ted, and hopefully some kids are feeling that way about my race. It’s important for these kids in the U.S. to know that it is possible to get here. It’s more possible than you think. And when you feel distant, you still have to go for it if this is your dream.”

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