Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Four ladies pulling away in Ski World Cup

Mikaela Shiffrin leads the Alpine Skiing World Cup overall standings when going into the Christmas break, yet Lara Gut, Ilka Štuhec, and Sofia Goggia are within only 31 points from her. Tina Weirather in fifth place is already trailing by 171 points.

Shiffrin and Gut were the overall title favorites in the absence of Anna Veith and Lindsey Vonn. Gut is a frontrunner in downhill, super-G, and giant slalom, as well as in alpine combined. Shiffrin is a frontrunner only in slalom and giant slalom, yet her consistently great slalom performances and a tech-favoring schedule help to compensate her lack of more strong disciplines. Besides she is expanding her repertoire into speed disciplines and she can be dangerous in alpine combined.

Like in previous season, Mikaela Shiffrin is dominating slalom and has won all three slalom races of this season. In giant slalom, she started the season well with a second place in Sölden, yet since then her GS results have been a fifth and a sixth place. What's worrying for Shiffrin's campaign is that she is losing to her overall title rivals Gut and Goggia in GS.

Apart from one start in slalom, Lara Gut has always been in the top four when she has finished a race this season and she is trailing Shiffrin only by five points. Yet four times in this season's 10 starts, she has not finished the race. Importantly, she is showing better form than Shiffrin in giant slalom, yet she can't afford too many DNFs, especially as Goggia has proved to be a true contender in the disciplines where Gut is racing.

Besides, not finishing races is costly for the discipline standings. Despite not finishing the last downhill in Val d'Isère, Gut is third in the downhill standings but trailing the leader Štuhec by already 170 points. In the Val d'Isère combined, she had a chance for a top-10 result, yet she went out in the slalom leg and she is trailing the Val d'Isère winner Štuhec by 100 points. Importantly, she has finished both super-G races and won them, leading Tina Weirather in super-G standings by 40 points.

Sofia Goggia and Ilka Štuhec have been the sensations of this season. Not many people expected Goggia to consistently make the podium in four disciplines and Štuhec to dominate downhill.

Goggia achieved her first career World Cup podium only in late November in the Killington giant slalom. Yet after that, she has missed the podium only twice in her starts; in the second Lake Louise downhill she had her worst finish of the season in 12th place and in the last super-G in Val d'Isère she didn't finish the race. In the Val d'Isère super-G she even had a chance for the overall standings' lead; she was going below Gut's lead time before missing a gate.

Goggia in fourth place, 31 points down, is starting to look like a real contender for the overall title. She finishes consistently on the podium, doesn't have DNFs as often as Gut, and is doing better than Shiffrin in giant slalom. It seems like she has better chances for the big overall globe than for a small discipline globe. She is second in the downhill and giant slalom standings, yet in GS, her gap to the leader Tessa Worley is 55 points, and in downhill the gap to the leader Štuhec is as big as 138 points. Alpine combined might be Goggia's best chance for a discipline title, she is trailing the leader Štuhec by 40 points with two combined races remaining.

Ilka Štuhec made her first World Cup podium appearances in Lake Louise where she won both downhill races. In the next downhill race in Val d'Isère, she showed she can do well also on other slopes by winning again. Besides dominating the downhill races, she won the season's first alpine combined race in Val d'Isère.

Štuhec is in third place, 17 points down, in the overall standings and leading the downhill and alpine combined standings. Yet she seems too much of a downhill specialist to be a true overall title contender. She hasn't been able to match her downhill results in super-G where she has fifth and seventh places from this season's races. That may also cost her in the alpine combined standings as the remaining two combined races have super-G as the speed leg. In order to earn points for her overall campaign, Štuhec was also going to start in the Courchevel giant slalom that got canceled. Yet it's hard to see her suddenly scoring good points in giant slalom as she has scored GS points only once in her World Cup career.

Yet winning races is what can keep Štuhec's overall title dream alive. The points system rewards winning; one victory is worth two fourth places. But still it will be hard for her to race for the overall title unless she can beat her rivals also in super-G.

Tina Weirather is always one of the pre-season favorites for the overall title as she can succeed in downhill, super-G, and giant slalom. Still, her career-best overall ranking is last season's fourth place. After the early season, Weirather's overall title chances are very much gone as she's 171 points behind Shiffrin. In the past two weeks, she achieved her season-best results in all three disciplines she's doing. Fourth in the Sestriere giant slalom is a good result for her but the gap forward was big; she lost the victory by one second and even the podium by 0.71 seconds. Eighth in Val d'Isère was her season-best downhill result, yet far from what the 2012 World Cup downhill runner-up has potential for. Fortunately for Weirather, her both podium results of the season have come from the same discipline as she repeated the second place of Lake Louise in the Val d'Isère super-G, keeping her 40 points behind Gut in the discipline standings.

Weirather has the skills to be a title contender in both speed disciplines, yet the 221-point gap to Štuhec seems already too big. But her chances for the super-G title are still well alive. She has been at her best in super-G this season and both second places have come with just a minimal loss to Gut. If she can keep up her form in super-G, she can challenge Gut for the discipline title.

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