2015 Alpine Ski World Championships Preview
With the 43rd Alpine Ski World Championships set to kick off in Vail/Beaver Creek today, here is a preview of what to expect from the biggest ski racing event since Sochi. This winter has been dominated by a few athletes but it is always worth bearing in mind that the major championships can throw up some big surprises… We’ll return once the Championships are over to see how my predictions went!
Men’s Speed Events (Downhill & Super-G)
Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud was almost invincible before Christmas, finishing no worse than 2nd and securing four race victories, including on the Birds of Prey course in Beaver Creek. He went slightly off the boil after Christmas but a spectacular return to form in Kitzbühel saw him win on the Hahnenkamm; widely regarded as the world’s toughest course. As a result he has to be the major favourite for victory in both speed events. His closest competition is likely to come from the Italian Dominik Paris and Austria’s Hannes Reichelt, the latter following his win on the Lauberhorn in Wengen. I would also throw two Americans into the mix – Travis Ganong and Steve Nyman. Both have picked up World Cup victories this year and perhaps more importantly have the all-important home snow advantage having practiced on the Birds of Prey piste far more than the competition.
My prediction: Jansrud to pip Reichelt in the Downhill and complete the double
Women’s Speed Events (Downhill & Super-G)
Lindsey Vonn’s incredible return from two career-threatening knee injuries put her as the firm favourite in both speed disciplines. The new record holder for most World Cup wins (64) takes a huge home snow advantage into the Championships, as not only is she American, but she lives in Vail and has skied there since she was a child. Her closest rivals are likely to be the Austrian Anna Fenninger, Switzerland’s Lara Gut and Tina Maze of Slovenia. Gut won the most recent race in St Moritz, Maze won the Downhill in Lake Louise and currently leads the Overall standings whereas Fenninger has finished second no less than six times this season. So whilst there is no clear front runner in the challenge to Vonn, all three have an excellent chance of topping the podium.
My prediction: Vonn makes it another speed event double, Fenninger & Maze to podium
Men’s Technical Events (Giant Slalom & Slalom)
The Austrian Marcel Hirscher has already won six races this season, taking four GS and two slalom victories – at times by well over a second. For him not to pick up a gold in Beaver Creek would be a huge shock, but his 14th place in the Schladming night slalom last week showed a slight chink in his armour. Probably in the best position to pip Hirscher to the GS gold is the American Ted Ligety, especially with home snow advantage. The two-time GS World Champion will be roared on by the home crowd and following victory in Beaver Creek in December his confidence on the Birds of Prey course will be high. The two Frenchmen Alexis Pinterault and Thomas Fanara will lead the charge from the rest of the pack and both have the potential to cause an upset. In the Slalom, Hirscher has been less consistent than his German rival Felix Neureuther, who currently tops the Slalom standings. He’s won already in Wengen and Madonna di Campiglio and came second in the 2013 World Championship Slalom. A dark horse for the title is the Russian Alexander Koroshilov, who destroyed the field by almost 1 ½ seconds in the last race in Schladming. Whether he can cope with the pressure of being bandied around as one of the pre-race favourites remains to be seen, but on last week’s performance he is certainly capable of causing an upset.
My prediction: Hirscher in the GS & Neureuther in the Slalom
Women’s Technical Events (Giant Slalom & Slalom)
The women’s technical events have been hotly contested this year and with the last race being held as far back as the 13th of January, choosing a favourite is very difficult. The closest to earning this tag has to be yet another Vail resident, Mikaela Shiffrin, in the Slalom on Valentine’s Day. She has been on a hot run of form in recent weeks, with two victories and a third place and again the home advantage has to play into her hands, especially following the long break. Frida Hansdotter from Sweden has been incredibly consistent this season, finishing no worse than fourth, placing her at the top of the slalom rankings. But I still think Shiffrin is more than capable of retaining the title she won, when aged just 18, in Schladming back in 2013. The Giant Slalom is even more open, with no clear favourite leading the field. The Austrian pair of Eva-Maria Brem and Anna Fenninger sit first and second in the standings, with Shiffrin third and another Swede, Sara Hector fourth. Despite this, Tina Maze is my tip for victory. She won Åre in December and has an excellent major Championship pedigree – she has 2 Olympic and 2 World Championship gold medals already.
My prediction: Shiffrin in the Slalom and Maze in the GS
Men’s & Women’s Alpine Combined
Combining the times from both a Downhill run and a Slalom run, the Alpine Combined is a true test of the best all round skier. The races are rarely held at World Cup level, so picking favourites based on form is difficult. But this season the men’s calendar did include two races – in Wengen and Kitzbühel, won by Carlo Janka and Alexis Pinterault respectively. These two therefore head to Beaver Creek as favourites, but you cannot ignore the 35 year old Croatian veteran Ivica Costelic who picked up 3rd in Wengen. No race has been held in the women’s competition this season, but Tina Maze goes in as overwhelming favourite having won in both Downhill and Slalom already this season.
My prediction: Janka wins as Pinterault crashes in the Slalom & Maze to win comfortably The Beaver Creek course has been in preparation day and night for several weeks now – great snow conditions have set things up perfectly
Slalom racer Dave Ryding offers the best chance of a British medal at this year’s World Champs, following a breakthrough season on the World Cup. He has picked up five top-30 finishes this season, including two new PBs when he came 17th and then 16th just before Christmas. He’ll be gunning for a top-20 finish but in Slalom you never know what can happen, especially with the added pressure of a World Championship race, so we could see something even better.
Elsewhere Jai Geyer, Jack Gower and Charlie Raposo will be flying the flag in the men’s competitions, with Charlie Guest and Alex Tilley leading the team in the women’s events.
Photo Credits: Facebook (Kjetil Jansrud, Lindsey Vonn, Marcel Hirscher & Beaver Creek)