Friday, January 9, 2015

2014-15 Alpine Skiing World Cup approaching the halfway

The 2014-15 Alpine Skiing season is approaching its halfway, which also means classic races: men in Adelboden, Wengen, and Kitzbühel and women in Cortina d'Ampezzo and St. Moritz. Here I review some skiers' performances this season.


The men's overall World Cup is becoming a two-man race between three-time defending champion Marcel Hirscher and Kjetil Jansrud. That is like the title fights between Hirscher and Svindal in previous years, Hirscher collecting big points from the technical events and the Norwegian collecting big points from the speed events. Hirscher took the overall lead with his Zagreb slalom win and also the projected final points show he is on the way to the overall title. Of disciplines, giant slalom has been better than slalom for him this winter. The tougher competition in slalom and last years' best giant slalom skier Ted Ligety's weaker performances may have accounted for that. In giant slalom, Hirscher leads the World Cup by 74 points ahead of Ligety whereas in the slalom World Cup, he is on the second place but only four points behind the leader Felix Neureuther.

Kjetil Jansrud has been the best speed skier since last February's Olympics where he won gold in super-G and bronze in downhill. This winter he has dominated speed disciplines, four wins and only one missed podium in seven speed races. While his leads in downhill and super-G standings aren't impossible to catch, I can't see anybody with the consistency needed to beat Jansrud for those titles.

As for the overall title fight, it will be tight as long as those two equally dominate their parade disciplines. Combined races can play a big role here. Hirscher will probably do only the Kitzbühel combined as instead of downhill it has super-G. But he has a great record from SG+SL combined, always in top 5. Jansrud will probably do both Wengen and Kitzbühel but he doesn't have as good a record from combined as Hirscher has. Still, his best combined result is from last winter when he was fourth in the Olympic combined, so he has potential. Another chance for Jansrud to gain points on Hirscher is in giant slalom. Unlike Hirscher, Jansrud has a decent third discipline. He has been three times in top 15 this winter but if he could improve to top 10, it would help him. He is a skier with potential in giant slalom as seen in around 2010 when giant slalom was his best discipline and he won Olympic silver in it. Of course, also Hirscher can try to get some points from super-G but he races in super-G very seldom.

Felix Neureuther leads the slalom World Cup, despite the back problems he has had. I don't think he is as good a slalom skier as second-placed Hirscher but Neureuther has been more consistent and finished all slaloms on podium. I think this title will depend on Hirscher's form. If Hirscher can bring his best, he will inevitably win it but if he has bad races and Neureuther remains consistent, then Felix has a huge chance for the title. Giant slalom has been more difficult for him this season than last winter when he even won a giant slalom in Adelboden. But even with his current results, he is well in contention to make the podium in the overall World Cup.

One of his main contenders for the third place in the overall is his countryman Fritz Dopfer who is consistently having good results in slalom and giant slalom. But Dopfer still needs a bit something to win races. Another contender for those Germans is the speed specialist Dominik Paris. While he is yet to win a race this winter, he has four podium finishes in seven speed races. Moreover, he is still young and I expect him to win discipline titles in downhill and super-G in the future. But I can't see him ever as a contender for the overall title; he would need a third discipline in his repertoire.

Another still young skier whose results I have been pleased with is Matthias Mayer. His downhill Olympic gold seemed like a one-race wonder but the results after it are making it justified. While he is "only" sixth and fourth in downhill and super-G standings and yet to win a race this winter, his two second places show he is a real deal. He is already ready to win races as the Olympic downhill and the final downhill in Lenzerheide last year showed but he isn't yet ready to fight for the discipline World Cup titles. But in the future I can see him as a strong contender for the World Cup titles in speed disciplines. He also has some giant slalom skills as shown by the sixth place at the Olympics, so I think he could be a Jansrud-like overall title contender in the future; strong in speed disciplines, decent in giant slalom.

Ted Ligety and Alexis Pinturault are skiers often mentioned in the overall title speculations. I am losing my faith in Ligety ever winning it. This is yet another winter when he can't do much outside giant slalom. He can have some good slalom runs but finishing two slalom runs has been difficult for him this winter. He won the World Championship super-G two years ago but he doesn't seem able to be a consistent top skier in super-G. And this winter he has been having a mediocre giant slalom season by his own standards. A win and two second places isn't bad but he is already 74 points behind the leader Hirscher. He must start beating Hirscher to successfully defend his giant slalom World Cup title.

Pinturault is a skier who I think has the skills needed to win the overall World Cup. He can be a top skier in slalom, giant slalom, super-G, and combined. Who knows if he even becomes a real all-round skier doing also downhill? But he needs consistency. Giant slalom has been his best discipline this winter and he also has a podium from super-G. But he has finished only one of the four slaloms, wasting lots of points. Aside from a slim chance for the giant slalom title, his aim for the rest of the season must be just to win races and secure top 3 in the giant slalom World Cup. He is still a young skier so he has years left to battle for the overall title.

And few words about my favourite Carlo Janka. After some worse seasons, at the end of the last season, it looked like he is breaking back into the top 10. But his performances haven't really improved from last winter. Actually, his downhill results have been worse than last winter but his giant slalom has improved from the last winter; in the 7th-place finish in Beaver Creek, he had the fastest second run. The promising thing in that is that the World Championships are held on the same slope. Maybe his best chance for glory this winter will be there. Also, I am eagerly looking forward to the Wengen weekend where he has an impressive record of one win in both downhill and combined as well as a total of six podiums in 11 starts.


On women's side, Tina Maze seems to be on the way to the overall title. She is consistently getting good results in all disciplines. Still, it may be hard for her to win any discipline titles as she doesn't dominate any discipline, almost all disciplines have some better skiers than her.

Last year's overall champion Anna Fenninger seems to be in trouble in her attempt to defend the title. She doesn't do slalom like Maze does plus she is ahead of Maze only in giant slalom points. Giant slalom looks like her best chance to win a World Cup title this winter. In the overall World Cup she seems to be on the way to the second place. She is currently third, behind Mikaela Shiffrin but there are lots of speed races remaining which should get her past Shiffrin, as seen in the projected standings.

Lindsey Vonn has made a great comeback. She is back dominating downhill and also doing well in super-G. The super-G points don't tell a lot yet because there has been only two races. Because of the retirement in Val-d'Isere, Vonn is only on sixth place. But her second place in Lake Louise impressed me so much that I expect her to be a contender for the title, like I expect the current points leader and last year's champion Lara Gut to be. As Vonn hasn't done technical events, she has no chance for the overall title though. Currently she is seventh but like in Fenninger's case, the speed races will bring her close to a top 3 finish.

Giant slalom looks like the most interesting title fight. The top 6 are within 100 points from the leader Eva-Maria Brem. One of those is Mikaela Shiffrin who won her first giant slalom in the first race of the season in Sölden. After that she didn't get good results in either giant slalom or even in his parade discipline slalom. But now that she has found her form, she is again a strong contender in giant slalom and the big favorite in slalom. Frida Hansdotter is still leading the slalom World Cup but I see her chances to win the slalom title very slim. I think she would need Shiffrin having bad races, Shiffrin is so clearly the best slalom skier on women's side.


I am not going much against the projected standings. For men I say 1) Hirscher, 2) Jansrud, 3) Paris. For women I say 1) Maze, 2) Fenninger, 3) Vonn. I put Vonn ahead of Shiffrin because I believe she can get more than 40 points per race in super-G which is her current average.

Then to disciplines. On men's side, I say Jansrud will win both downhill and super-G and Hirscher will win both slalom and giant slalom. On women's side, I say Vonn will win the downhill and super-G titles and Shiffrin will win the slalom title. Giant slalom feels hardest to predict. I pick Fenninger, she was back in form in Kühtai.

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