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U.S. Alpine Team Focused on World Championships

With the World Cup a week away, the U.S. Ski Team ramps up training and preparation

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– The October start of the 2009 Audi FIS Alpine World Cup schedule is just a week away (starting Oct. 25 in Soelden, AUT) and the U.S. Ski Team is ready to roll with another season of success. The focus: the 2009 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Val d’Isere, France.

Following a 2008 season of unprecedented success, American skiers carry the momentum of two overall World Cup titles, thanks to Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO) and independent racer Bode Miller (Bretton Woods, NH). Vonn and Miller also won the ’08 downhill and combined titles respectively, while Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety (Park City, UT) captured the giant slalom globe. With five out of 12 World Cup titles in the hands of Americans, the bar has been set high.

“We’re coming off a season that was one of the best in U.S. history,” said Alpine Director Jesse Hunt. “This season is about continuing to raise the bar on the World Cup, but shifting gears at the same time to center on the World Championships. We want to have our Team skiing its best in February without losing focus of scoring on the World Cup.”

Also returning to the lineup are proven podium performers Julia Mancuso (Olympic Valley, CA), Marco Sullivan (Squaw Valley, CA), Steven Nyman (Provo, UT) and Scott Macartney (Crystal Mountain, WA).

Vonn looks to defend

With the downhill title last season, Vonn became the most successful speed skier in U.S. history, male or female, surpassing childhood hero Picabo Street and Daron Rahlves with 10 World Cup downhill victories. She also became the first women in 25 years to win the World Cup overall title, matching Tamara McKinney’s 1983 title. Following a summer of training in New Zealand, Chile and Austria, the 2007 Worlds double silver medalist says she’s prepared to add a few more World Cup titles to her resume and upgrade to a World Championships gold medal.

Mancuso, the 2006 Olympic giant slalom champion and three-time Worlds medalist, is also back in the gate after a whirlwind summer where she sandwiched double New Zealand training sessions between working for NBC at the Olympics in Beijing. Mancuso landed on the podium in four disciplines last winter.

“We’ve got a talented women’s team returning to action with an equally talented coaching staff lead by Jim Tracy to continue their international success,” Hunt said. “A number of our Europa Cup podium performers will move up to World Cup starts including Hailey Duke (Boise, ID), who won a pair of slaloms last season. We’re also going to see the return of Sarah Schleper (Vail, CO) and Kaylin Richardson (Edina, MN). Sarah is a great leader and has already added positively to the Team dynamic over the summer and Kaylin is working back to full speed very well.”

Also set for World Cup starts are speedsters Stacey Cook (Mammoth, CA), Leanne Smith (Conway, NH), Chelsea Marshall (Pittsfield, VT) and Megan McJames (Park City, UT). Both Smith and Marshall scored points in their first season on the World Cup with Smith landing 23rd in her first World Cup downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta, and Marshall ripping to an 8th place downhill finish in Sestriere, Italy, later in the year. Resi Stiegler (Jackson, WY) is recovering well and is expected to be back on snow later in the season.

U.S. women will take center stage when the World Cup swings into Colorado’s Rocky Mountains Thanksgiving weekend for the annual Aspen Winternational.

Ligety works slalom and speed

Ligety stormed to victory in the final two races of the season to win the World Cup giant slalom title, an accomplishment that, according to Hunt, solidified the men’s technical program as ready to win. While looking to remain fast in GS, Ligety spent a good portion of the summer training both slalom and speed with the goal of challenging for the podium in super combined.

Joining him are Jimmy Cochran (Keene, NH) and 2003 Worlds bronze medalist Erik Schlopy (Park City, UT). Cochran will continue to compete for the slalom podium, while Schlopy brings commitment and leadership to a team building steam for Val d’Isere. The men will get a sneak peak at the World Championships technical slope when the World Cup stops at Val d’Isere Dec. 13-14 with a giant slalom and a slalom.

“We have an established winner on the tech side with Ted, and Erik has shown outstanding leadership with this program,” said Hunt. “Our tech program is doing very well and building momentum. On the speed side, we have Marco, Steven and Scott leading the podium charge. Sasha Rearick has stepped up to the head coaching job for the men and he’s built an awesome coaching staff to keep it rolling.”

Hunt also pointed to young guns Andrew Weibrecht (Lake Placid, NY) and TJ Lanning (Park City, UT) as prepared to establish themselves as World Cup podium contenders. Weibrecht stunned fans, and fellow competitors last season after ripping from the 53rd start position to a spectacular 10th place finish at the Birds of Prey downhill in Beaver Creek, CO. Lanning also roped a 10th in super combined at Beaver Creek, then added a Europa Cup downhill win. This season’s Audi Birds of Prey races are scheduled for Dec. 4-7 in Beaver Creek.

In addition to capturing his second overall World Cup title in three years, Miller inked new marks to the American record books last season, notching his 31st World Cup victory to surpass Phil Mahre as the most successful U.S. skier. In addition, the four-time World Champion narrowly missed his first World Cup downhill title, falling five points short to Swiss Didier Cuche when the final race was cancelled in Bormio, Italy.

Perfect summer sessions

The preparation period is a huge factor in setting the stage for a successful season and this summer did not fail for the U.S. Ski Team. Both men’s and women’s programs had outstanding training conditions in New Zealand and Chile for its camps in August and September.

“We had incredible snow in the Southern Hemisphere this summer and that’s been really positive,” said Hunt. “Our athletes committed to their individual strength and conditioning programs and it translated directly into where they are as we get ready to kick things off in Soelden.”

Early reports from Soelden are good with over two feet of snow falling last weekend. Ligety and Mancuso set the tone for the 2008 season with podium finishes at the World Cup opener. The U.S. Ski Team looks to get off to a similar start on Oct. 25, when Soelden once again kicks off the World Cup calendar. Both men’s and women’s programs are currently in Austria making final preparations.

The World Championships are slated for Feb. 2-15 in Val d’Isere, France.