Gold Rush: U.S. Ski Team Romps at the Worlds

Ligety leads the way; Shiffrin leads the next generation.
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Ligety leads the way; Shiffrin leads the next generation.
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It’s hard to feel sorry for the Austrians, but it was hard to begrudge them one single individual title at a World Alpine Skiing Championships hosted on their own soil. Marcel Hirscher won gold in the wrap-up men’s slalom Sunday in Schladming. But while that gave 30,000 Austrian fans something to cheer at last, the 2013 Worlds belonged to American racers, starting with hat-trick winner Ted Ligety.

"It's nice being in Austria and beating up on the Austrians on their home turf," Ligety said after winning Friday’s GS, his third world title. "They always dominate the sport and they always kind of seem like they should be dominating the sport so it makes it all the more satisfying to beat them."

Ligety not only successfully defended his GS title, but also added wins in super G and the combined, showing flashes of newfound speed-event confidence while becoming the first skier in 45 years to win three golds in a single World Championships. Only Bode Miller, who is taking the year off following surgery on his left knee, has won as many career titles for the U.S.

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Meanwhile, with American race fans mourning the season-ending injury of Lindsey Vonn, a bright new hero stepped confidently into the world ski-racing spotlight. Mikaela Shiffrin, who will finally turn 18 next month, but is still three years away from legally drinking her victory champagne, showed that her three World Cup slalom wins this season are no flukes, winning Saturday’s slalom and placing a surprising sixth in the GS.

All but forgotten is Julia Mancuso’s Super G bronze, won early in the competitions (in the same race in which Vonn tore two knee ligaments and fractured her tibial plateau after landing a jump awkwardly).

Austrians will point to the fact that while the Americans won more gold on their home soil, they won more medals overall at the World Championships. But the U.S. team isn’t backing down from its gold rush. And there are plenty of reasons to hope that next year, with the Sochi Olympics in the offing, will be even more exciting:

- Vonn will have returned from her injury, ready to resume her historic assault on the World Cup men’s and women’s career wins records.

-Miller will be back, always a threat to win in any given speed event, provided he’s both on his game, healthy, and in the mood.

- Ligety can be expected to continue dominating the GS, but might also start stealing podiums in super G and combined—and surely making a bid for the overall title.

- Shiffrin, the new pride of Burke Academy, appears to be just getting warmed up.

- Mancuso, so often overshadowed by the mainstream celebrity of teammate Vonn, is also a legitimate threat from week to week. And the U.S. team has had other flashes of brilliance over the course of season—wins for Alice McKennis and Stacey Cooke, for example.

Now, with three more weeks in the season, American fans can enjoy watching Ligety and Shiffrin try to nail down World Cup discipline titles in GS and slalom, respectively.