Thursday, December 8, 2016

Shiffrin in World Cup overall lead after impressive downhill debut

Three-time World Cup slalom champion Mikaela Shiffrin remains in the overall standings' lead after women had their opening speed races in Lake Louise. Following a second place to the defending overall champion Lara Gut, Shiffrin scored a dominant victory in the slalom of Levi. In Killington, Vermont, Shiffrin couldn't make the podium in the giant slalom, yet for the delight of the American crowd she celebrated her second season victory in slalom.

Shiffrin made her World Cup debut in downhill in Lake Louise. With an 18th place she scored points right in her debut downhill and on the following day she improved into 13th place.

The defending World Cup overall champion Lara Gut opened her season by winning the Sölden giant slalom by almost 1.5 seconds to Shiffrin. Yet in the following giant slalom in Killington, she crashed out on the first run, dropping her into fifth place in the GS standings. In Lake Louise Gut had a solid weekend with fourth and second places in the downhill races and a victory in super-G whose discipline title she is defending. As Shiffrin missed the points in the super-G, Gut reduced Shiffrin's lead to 28 points with the super-G victory.

Ilka Štuhec and Sofia Goggia have been the biggest positive surprises in the early season. Štuhec made her first World Cup podium appearances in Lake Louise as she won both downhill races. She was also fifth in the Lake Louise super-G and she is fourth in the overall standings.

Sofia Goggia is sitting in third place in the overall standings with podium finishes in giant slalom, super-G, and downhill. Following a fifth place in the Sölden GS, Goggia achieved her first career podium with a third place in the Killington GS. In Lake Louise she made the podium again as she was second in the first downhill race. She was only 12th in the second downhill race in Lake Louise, yet returned to podium in the super-G with a third place that reduced her gap to the overall leader 91 points.

It will be interesting to see if Štuhec and Goggia can keep up their form throughout the season. Štuhec is too much of a speed specialist to be an overall title contender, yet she could be a strong contender for the downhill title. While the defending downhill champion Lindsey Vonn is currently aside after having broken her arm in a training crash, Gut can be expected to be a contender also for the downhill title. Tina Weirather scored only 14th and ninth places in the Lake Louise downhill races, yet the second place in the super-G lets us to expect her to become a frontrunner in downhill as well. Kajsa Kling might also be a title contender in speed disciplines; she is third in the downhill standings with third and fifth places, and she was also fourth in the Lake Louise super-G.

Goggia seems unlikely for any discipline title, yet with her versatility she can finish high in the overall standings. However, beating Gut in the three disciplines they both compete in is going to be hard for Goggia. And with the speed skills Shiffrin showcased in Lake Louise and the tech-favoring schedule, the tech specialist Shiffrin might top the overall standings in a way reminiscent of Marcel Hirscher on the men's side.

The Austrian team is missing two big names. Two-time World Cup overall champion Anna Veith (née Fenninger) is still recovering from the knee injury that kept her aside last season. While Veith is aiming for a comeback mid-season, the defending giant slalom champion Eva-Maria Brem broke her leg in training and will be aside for the rest of the season.

While Brem is aside, a former giant slalom world champion has returned to top. After the sixth place of Sölden, Tessa Worley dominated the Killington giant slalom, making her first podium appearance since December 2013 when she suffered a knee injury. After two races, she leads the GS standings by 15 points to Shiffrin. Third in the GS standings, 30 points from Worley, is the 20-year-old Italian Marta Bassino who has third and fourth places from the two GS races.

In slalom Shiffrin dominated the two races so far. Besides her, Wendy Holdener made the podium both at Levi and Killington, yet is trailing Shiffrin already by 60 points. The defending slalom champion Frida Hansdotter is only 19th in the standings, already 174 points behind Shiffrin.

Nina Løseth had strong performances in the previous technical races in Killington, finishing second in the giant slalom and fourth in the slalom. While it's hard to see anybody beating Shiffrin for the slalom title, the GS title battle is more open and Løseth could be a contender for it if she keeps on performing like in Killington.

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