Sunday, March 9, 2014

A look into the 2014 Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals

The 2014 Alpine Skiing World Cup will come to its conclusion next week at the Finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. Both men's and women's overall World Cup titles are tight two-way battles and also five out of eight discipline titles are still open. The titles already decided are men's downhill and super-G won by Aksel Lund Svindal and women's slalom won by Mikaela Shiffrin.

Men's overall World Cup

Marcel Hirscher comes to Lenzerheide with a lead of only four points to Aksel Lund Svindal. Neither skier seems to be at their very best at the moment. The Olympics did not go too well for either of them, both of them were even gold medal favorites but the only medal for those two was Hirscher's silver in slalom. They were also unable to reach podium in the post-Olympics races in Kvitfjell and Kranjska Gora. I made some calculations based on their three last races in each discipline. I calculated their average points scores from those three races. (I also gave points to the Olympic races with the World Cup system) Here are the projected final points based on those averages.

Hirscher: 1050 (current) + 60 (GS) + 68 (SL) = 1178 (projected)
Svindal: 1046 (current) + 45 (DH) + 49 (SG) = 1140 (projected)

Svindal's points average for giant slalom would be 12 points, equaling a 19th-place finish. But only fifteen best skiers get points in the final races so I did not include that to the projected points.

So, I believe Hirscher will be able to get slightly more points from the technical events as Svindal in the speed events. But you cannot count out the possibility of Svindal winning both speed events, which would require Hirscher winning both technical events. And in that case, a points finish in giant slalom would be enough for Svindal to secure the overall World Cup title.

Weather can also play a role in the World Cup finals as cancelled final races will not be rescheduled. In the last two times when Lenzerheide hosted the Finals, they had to cancel half of the individual races because of the weather. Speed events are more likely to get cancelled than technical events, so that may turn the fight in favor of Hirscher.

The race for the third place is very much between Alexis Pinturault and Ted Ligety. Pinturault is ahead of Ligety by 75 points. Given Ligety's poor form outside giant slalom, I believe Pinturault can stay ahead unless he fails to score any points in the finals. Kjetil Jansrud is 216 points behind Pinturault and is in a great form in speed events. But to pass Pinturault, he should have a good result also in giant slalom which is very unlikely given his bad giant slalom form.

Men's giant slalom World Cup

Ted Ligety has been the most impressive giant slalom skier this season, yet surprisingly he is not leading the giant slalom World Cup standings. He had three weaker races in the mid-winter where he had one third place and two retirements. The giant slalom leader Marcel Hirscher has been more consistent and has missed the podium only once, in the last race in Kranjska Gora. If Hirscher has a podium result in Lenzerheide, then he will win the giant slalom title, no matter how Ligety performs. But there is some chance for Ligety, Hirscher was fourth in Kranjsjka Gora and also in the Olympic giant slalom before that.

Men's slalom World Cup

The slalom World Cup is a three-way battle with Felix Neureuther leading Marcel Hirscher by five points and Henrik Kristoffersen by forty points. Kristoffersen's chances are quite slim, to win the slalom title, Hirscher should be third and Neureuther fourth at best. Still, he has been the most consistent of these three skiers recently, including World Cup and Olympic races; he has a four-race podium streak. But he is the outsider in this battle; Neureuther and Hirscher should not lose their points lead over him.

Hirscher has finished all slalom races since January; Neureuther has retired in Adelboden and at the Olympics. But in the five slaloms he has finished since January, he has finished four times ahead of Hirscher. Ultimately, I think Hirscher is a better slalom skier than Neureuther and he has been more consistent. But I think Neureuther has a better form and I think he will beat Hirscher once again if he finishes. That's why he is my pick for the slalom title.

Women's overall World Cup

Women's overall World Cup is a two-way battle between Maria Höfl-Riesch and Anna Fenninger with Höfl-Riesch having a lead of 29 points. I made similar calculations based on their recent performances as with men:

Fenninger: 1151 (current) + 42 (DH) + 59 (SG) + 93 (GS) = 1345 (projected)
Höfl-Riesch: 1180 (current) + 33 (DH) + 73 (SG) + 31 (SL) + 17 (GS) = 1335 (projected)

Höfl-Riesch has usually been a better downhill skier but in the recent races Fenninger has been better. In super-G there is not so big a difference between these skiers. Höfl-Riesch can get some lead over Fenninger in slalom but to win the overall title, she needs a big lead before the final race that is giant slalom. Giant slalom is Höfl-Riesch's worst discipline whereas Fenninger has won the last three World Cup giant slaloms and was the silver medalist in the Olympic giant slalom.

Tina Weirather is currently on the third place but she is out because of an injury. That was a very unfortunate injury; she missed the Olympics and was in a position to fight for the World Cup titles, even for the overall World Cup. That's why Tina Maze and Lara Gut are likely to pass her in the overall standings. Maze is leading Gut by 32 points and I believe she will finish the season third. Gut seems to be better in super-G but Maze is better in downhill and slightly in giant slalom plus she does slalom unlike Gut.

Women's downhill World Cup

Also women's downhill World Cup will be decided between Höfl-Riesch and Fenninger. Höfl-Riesch has a lead of 80 points and will have more downhill wins than Fenninger, so Fenninger needs to win the final race and in that case Höfl-Riesch needs the twenty points of the 13th place which would be her worst downhill of the season. So Fenninger's task seems almost impossible. If Höfl-Riesch somehow lost this title, I think it would be a huge blow for her overall title chances as it would mean a lead of at least 50 points for Fenninger with three races to go.

Women's super-G World Cup

Lara Gut is leading the standings ahead of injured Tina Weirather but third-placed Anna Fenninger is 71 points behind Gut and has a chance for the title. But this title is almost as difficult for her to win as the downhill title, to have any chance, she needs to finish in the top 2 and even if she won, the 29 points of the 9th place would be enough for Gut.

Women's giant slalom World Cup

The giant slalom title will be decided between Jessica Lindell-Vikarby and Anna Fenninger. Lindell-Vikarby had a great early season and is leading by 14 points ahead of Fenninger who has been excellent in the last giant slalom races. A win means automatically the title for Fenninger and even if she finishes second, Lindell-Vikarby must win the race. Of the discipline titles, this seems like the easiest for her to win.

Giant slalom being the final race of women’s season may have its effect on the outcome of the giant slalom title. If Fenninger needs a safe run for the overall title, she may not be willing to take risks for the giant slalom title.

So it seems like an interesting final week for the season. Let's hope the weather will permit all races in good and fair conditions, and cancellations will not decide any titles.

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