Posts Tagged ‘Julia Mancuso’

Is America the New Austria?

Thursday, December 8th, 2011
As U.S. Skiers Win Races and Ink Deals, the Sport’s Royal Power Frets; ‘All the Kids Love Bode’

By MATTHEW FUTTERMAN

The Wall Street Journal

Something strange is happening up in the snow-crusted mountains of Europe and North America. A group of U.S. skiers is trying to execute a takeover of Austria’s national sport.

After hauling in two gold, three silver and three bronze medals in Vancouver last year, the U.S. Alpine ski team has continued to make the Austrians, the sport’s still-reigning superpower, look about as dangerous as two cups of spätzle.

American Ted Ligety won his second World Cup race of the season Tuesday, beating Austrian Marcel Hirscher in the giant slalom at Beaver Creek, Colo., by a hefty margin of 0.69 seconds. Wednesday, when three-time overall World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn races, she’ll be attempting to win her fourth straight Alpine event.

[VonnIllo] In a photo illustration, three-time overall World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn is depicted in a traditional dirndl. Vonn attempts to win her fourth straight Alpine race Wednesday. 

The wins have moved the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association considerably closer to a goal that, when first set in 1997, seemed like a fairy tale: to produce the best Alpine team in the world. “I don’t know that I ever expected us to be this good,” said Luke Bodensteiner, vice president for athletics at the USSA, who has been with the organization for 14 years.

“You train with them and compare times and if you’ve come out ahead you know you’re in good shape,” Mathias Berthold, coach of the Austrian men’s team said of the U.S. skiers. “They’re coming on strong.”

Last weekend at an event in Lake Louise, Alberta, Vonn raced as though the rest of the field had waxed its skis with peanut butter. Vonn, who recently announced she will divorce her husband and longtime coach, Thomas Vonn, skied as though she had not a care in the world, winning her downhill races by an absurd 1.95 seconds Friday and 1.68 seconds Saturday—the equivalent of about 40-50 meters. Then she took the Super G race Sunday by 0.19 seconds.

“The U.S. has always had Olympic champions but not skiers that have won consistently as they do now,” said Herbert Mandl, who coaches the Austrian women’s Alpine team. “They have made the big effort.”

Alexandra Meissnitzer, a former Austrian World Cup champion said Austrians now envy the less-rigid U.S. approach. “We see them as super-cool because they look like they’re having so much fun,” Meissnitzer said. “With the Americans, it comes from the heart.”

The U.S. has produced world class skiers before, but never has it produced so many skiers who consistently land on the podiums at World Cup events. There’s also a pipeline in place with a group of young skiers who are on the verge of breaking into the sport’s top tier in the coming years. “It becomes easier to reach a higher level when you already have a road map to get there,” said Ligety, who is the defending World Cup giant slalom champion.

It should be noted that the Austrian and the Swiss teams have a depth that the U.S. hasn’t been able to match—but that, too, seems to be changing.

You’ve likely heard of Vonn and Ligety, as well as three-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso and, of course, Bode Miller, the winner of 33 World Cup races. The U.S. team also now includes emerging talents like Nolan Kasper, 22, who became the first American since 1989 to win a title in the Europa Cup, ski racing’s second tier. Another American, 16-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin is already ranked higher than Vonn and Mancuso were at her age.

The evolution of the U.S. success—and the fading hegemony of Europe—is as much about culture as results. American skiers are becoming viewed, by many, as the marquee faces of the sport.

A promotional poster for the season’s opening event in Soelden, Austria, for instance, featured the mug of a single skier, Bode Miller. “All the kids love Bode—he’s a little different,” Berthold said of Miller, the sport’s risk-taking iconoclast.

In another surprise, the U.S team recently signed a sponsorship deal with the tourism bureau of the Otzal Valley in the heart of Austrian ski country. The multi-year deal, which according to USSA chief revenue and marketing officer Andrew Judelson includes a “significant cash component,” gives the team a winter home that includes housing, training facilities and easy access to top World Cup tour stops. Several top European consumer brands, most notably Audi, have signed as sponsors.

Investment in facilities is also helping move the sport’s center of gravity closer to the U.S.

Earlier this year, the top European skiers descended on Copper Mountain in Colorado, where the U.S. team recently opened a $4.3 million speed skiing training center. The facility offers the only slope of its caliber nearly guaranteed to have quality snow so early in the season.

Of course, the U.S. team has gotten plenty of help from the old empire. “They hired all our coaches,” Mandl said with a laugh. Indeed, Austrian Patrick Rimi, is U.S. skiing’s Alpine director. Austrian Alex Hoedlmoser is the women’s head coach. Austrian Roland Pfeifer is the women’s technical expert.

Money has helped, too. The USSA raised $60 million during the past decade to build its training center in Park City, Utah. Thanks to a 70-member board of trustees that includes some of the country’s wealthiest citizens, the organization has an endowment that has grown by about $10 million the past five years to nearly $40 million. Since 1997 the USSA has added about 17 full-time conditioning coaches, physiologists, nutritionists and psychologists, developed a training plan it shares with hundreds of junior clubs and started concentrating its spending on the top performers.

Mancuso said she feels the U.S. skiers are already the best in the world technically. “I feel like having five of the top 10 skiers in the world is definitely possible for this team,” she said. “It’s all confidence at this level, and sometimes with the European skiers they just have another gear that some of our skiers may not have yet.”

Lindsey Vonn Clinches Career 10th World Cup Title

Friday, March 4th, 2011

TARVISIO, Italy (March 4) – Olympic champion Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO) secured the 10th Audi FIS Alpine World Cup title of her career Friday by holding off a surging Tina Maze of Slovenia to snatch her second straight super combined title. Maze won the race, yet missed the crystal globe by a narrow eight points as Riesch finished third on the day and in the season-long super combined standings. Julia Mancuso (Squaw Valley, CA) was sixth, Leanne Smith (Conway, NH) ninth, Laurenne Ross (Klamath Falls, OR) 19th and Stacey Cook 20th as all U.S. Ski Team starters finished inside the top 20. A downhill is scheduled for Saturday with Vonn leading those standings by 103 points over Riesch.

OFFICIAL RESULTS,  Audi FIS Alpine World Cup, Tarvisio, Italy – March 4, 2011

Super Combined

1. Tina Maze, Slovenia; 2:13.54�
2. Lindsey Vonn, Vail, CO; 2:13.72
3. Maria Riesch, Germany;  2:14.09

6. Julia Mancuso, Squaw Valley, CA, 2:15.41
9. Leanne Smith, Conway, NH, 2:16.42
19. Laurenne Ross, Klamath Falls, OR, 2:17.20
20. Stacey Cook, Mammoth Mountain, CA, 2:17.22

For complete results: http://www.fis-ski.com/uk/604/1228.html?cal_suchsector=AL&event_id=28161

 FINAL SUPER COMBINED POINTS STANDINGS
1. Lindsey Vonn, Vail, CO – 220
2. Tina Maze, Slovenia – 212
3. Maria Riesch, Germany – 205

COMPETITION QUOTES

 Lindsey Vonn:  “It was a great day. I knew that it was really close with the points and I knew I had to ski great slalom run to get the title. I don’t think it was my best slalom run, but I was aggressive the whole way and that was my goal. Super combined titles are not easy to win because there are only three races so you can’t make any mistakes.”

 “I’ve been struggling a lot in slalom this year, but I have been training well, especially the last few weeks. I’ve had a lack of self confidence which comes from not finishing very many slalom races in the last two years, so today I knew I had nothing to lose and I had to go out and take the title if I wanted it. I wanted it badly.”

 “There are some more titles on the line this weekend with the downhill and super G and going to try and win those. At this point in the season, Maria is quite a bit ahead of me in the overall title hunt and so I’m just skiing relaxed, having fun and skiing like I have nothing to lose. I’m still skiing like I have a chance to win the overall, but I have to be realistic about it too. I’m going to ski to win races and then we’ll see where it ends up.”

 “Leanne had a really good downhill run and Julia also had a great run of slalom today. For Leanne to be in the top 10 of super combined is really cool. We’re all skiing well right now. We have some great depth to our team and it’s fun to be around.”  

 Alex Hoedlmoser – Head Coach:  “To a degree it was good that Lindsey just had to go out and attack it in the slalom. She knew that she had to beat Maria and that’s what was in her mind. In the last couple of races she had other things in her mind, but today was just like ‘I want this title, so I just need to go.’”

“We know that she can kill the downhill, so that wasn’t a surprise, the impressive part was the slalom. She’s been with it all season in training, but for some reason has backed off on race day and today she went out and was fantastic in the slalom.”

“The girls were all in communication today and they knew they had to be smart. This was obviously great results for the whole team. Having everyone was in the top 20 and three in the top 10 is awesome. Everyone is pumped for tomorrow’s downhill.”

 

MULTIMEDIA LINKS
Audio for editorial use: USSA Audio
Action Photography: Getty Images (licensing required)

RACE HIGHLIGHTS
Lindsey Vonn SC-DH: http://unisports.tv/fHxwgK
Lindsey Vonn SC-SL: http://unisports.tv/gaRxMz
Julia Mancuso SC-DH: http://unisports.tv/f9WqrN
Julia Mancuso SC-SL: http://unisports.tv/gsILLT
Leanne Smith SC-DH: http://unisports.tv/i5qk3a
Leanne Smith SC-SL: http://unisports.tv/gcQocs