Shiffrin aside, United States Ski Team has work to do
Mikaela Shiffrin really covers up a lot of warts.
The Austrian Ski Team — men and women combined — not surprisingly won the most World Cup races this season with 21. The United States had the second most wins with 17, followed by Italy with 10.
Of course, Marcel Hirscher powers the Austrians. The eight-time defending World Cup champion won eight times, a little more than a third of the Land of Mountains’ wins.
That one person — Shiffrin — finished second among nations with 17 wins is yet another way of describing Mikaela’s sublime state. The flip side of that coin is that U.S. Ski Team is one-person squad, essentially down from a two-women troupe with Lindsey Vonn’s retirement.
Right now, there really is no “there, there” when it comes to American skiing as team.
Cue the ‘Jeopardy’ music
Trivia time: Who was the last American not named Mikaela or Lindsey on a World Cup podium?
Ted Ligety took third in a giant slalom in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Jan. 28, 2018.
Who was the last American not named Mikaela or Lindsey to win a World Cup race?
That’s Travis Ganong in downhill on Jan. 27, 2017, in Garmisch. (Eerie date and similarity there.)
Last woman on the podium not named Mikaela or Lindsey? That’s Alice McKennis at World Cup finals in Are, Sweden, on March 14, 2018. Jacqueline Wiles also had a podium that season in Italy.
Last woman to win a World Cup not named Mikaela or Lindsey? To the way-back machine we go with Julia Mancuso in a city event in Moscow on Feb. 21, 2012. “Super Jules” also won a super-G in Garmisch that year. (The U.S. Ski Team should petition to have all future races in Germany, right?)
This is a way of saying that there is little if any depth on the U.S. Ski Team.
Yes, Wiles went down right before the 2018 Olympics with an injury. Breezy Johnson got hurt right after the 2018 Olympics. For the guys, Ganong tore his ACL around New Year’s 2018.
But even if none of these injuries had happened, the U.S. Ski Team would not have depth. Depth is having skiers who are capable of top-10 World Cup finishes competing for the four spots in a discipline on Olympic or FIS Alpine World Ski Championships teams.
On the men’s side, we do note that Bryce Bennett seems to be on an upward arc. He had four top-10 finishes in World Cup downhills, another at worlds and finished seventh in the points in the discipline. (Dear U.S. Ski Team, please put him on the A Team for full funding.)
We also acknowledge that Ganong came back early from his ACL, and that his 2018-19 season was going to be part of the rehab process.
For the women, we’ll see how Johnson and Wiles recover. This is the glass-is-half-full look at things.
The empty part of the glass is difficult. Ligety has had two full seasons on tour since his injuries and he’s not close to the skier he was. He hasn’t won a race since Oct. 25, 2015, the Soelden, Austria, opener.
Since his injuries he has five top 10s in two years, respectable, but nowhere near the automatic-podium/winning status he once held. He turns 35 this summer, and time is not on his side.
Should Ted be given the opportunity to call his shot with when he retires? Absolutely. (And to the previous point, it’s not like anyone else on the squad is pushing him out.) Should Birds of Prey honor Ted by naming part of the course for him, just as it did for Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller? Totally. I’m thinking something like Ligety’s Left.
Should all honors be accorded Ted for being the best GS skier in American history? Yes. However, the fact remains that Ligety’s best days are behind him, and it’s likely the case with Steve Nyman as well.
Outside of Shiffrin, the U.S. Ski Team is in transition. It’s happened before. When we hosted the 1999 Worlds at Vail and Beaver Creek, the cupboard seemed equally bare. Chad Fleischer (super-G) and some guy named Miller (slalom) logged the only top-10 finishes for the Americans. The U.S. was blanked on the medal table.
Sarah Schleper was injured. Picabo Street was also hurt, and on the downside of her illustrious career. We’ve been here, done that and have the T-shirt.
Vonn was 13 during Vail ’99 and Shiffrin was 3. (Egad.) Four years later, Daron and Bode started their rampage and some youngster named Ted made GS races must-see viewing. And you know the rest of the story.
The task for the U.S. Ski Team this summer and in the next few years is to find who follows in those footsteps.
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