With only a few months to go before the eagerly-awaited World Championships in St Moritz kick off, Graham Bell has the low-down on the contenders in the gold rush for medals…
St Moritz will host its fifth major Alpine skiing championship in February 2017, and a World Championship gold will be top of most top ski racers wish list this season. The stars of the last St Moritz championships back in 2003 have long since retired, but there are a couple of names that raced back then, notably Aksel Lund Svindal and Hannes Reichelt.
A young 22-year-old Reichelt was new to the Austrian team, and had qualified for the Super-G only with his first World Cup podium of his career in Val Gardena earlier in the season. Unfortunately he blew his first stab at World Championship glory and did not finish the course. Norway’s 20-year-old Svindal had also claimed his first World Cup podium that season with a 2nd in the Kitzbühel combined, and faired better at the championships picking up a 5th place in the Giant Slalom.
Svindal has since notched up eight World Championship medals, while Reichelt has three medals including a Super-G gold last time out in Vail 2015. They are proven winners, but both suffered an injury setback last season when they crashed in the identical place while racing the Hahnenkamm, the world’s toughest downhill course in Kitzbühel.
If both are in top condition this season then expect them to be among the favourites for the World Championship speed events.
St Moritz is a regular stop on the women’s World Cup tour, but the men got a chance to test out the Corviglia piste at the 2016 World Cup finals back in March. It is a course more suited to the larger gliders like American Steve Nyman, but it was the Swiss Beat Feuz who ended last season with style winning both the Downhill and Super-G. With his confidence up he will be one to watch on home snow come the World Championships.Norway’s finest, Aksel Lund Svindal is one of the stars to watch at the World Championships next February | Studio Bezard
Marcel Hirscher from Austria added Super-G to his repertoire last season, winning somewhat fortunately in Beaver Creek, Colorado, due to weather conditions, but then backing that up with a 3rd on home turf on the tough Hinterstoder hill. The defending Combined World Champion could conceivably win four gold medals in St Moritz, but is always under massive pressure from the Austrian media to perform at major championships.
Also applying the pressure will be the young Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen who claimed the Slalom World Cup title last season and the resurgent Frenchman Alexis Pinturault who found the winning form that had temporarily deserted him midway through last season.
USA’s reigning World Giant Slalom champion Ted Ligety had an annus horribilis. After a promising start with a win at the World Cup opener in Solden, his season fell apart. Three herniated discs in his back kept him off snow for a month. Then Ligety posted a string of DNF’s (did not finish), coupled with complaints about the running of the sport and the safety of the new airbag back protectors. Finally, his season ended prematurely with a torn cruciate knee ligament. Ligety will be back though and will not give up the Giant Slalom world crown that he has won for the last three consecutive World Championships without a fight.
USA’s Lindsey Vonn is clear favourite for the speed events and has a good record on the St Moritz track, with five of her 76 World Cup victories scored there; not quite the dominance she has shown in Lake Louise with 18 victories, so the other women will at least fancy their chances. Home favourite and 2016 overall World Cup winner Lara Gut also enjoys racing in St Moritz, and will have plenty of support from her home canton of Ticino – the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland is just mountain range away.
Anna Veith (née Fenninger) from Austria is recovering from her cruciate tear last season, and is looking to defend her two World Champ gold medals in the Super-G and Giant Slalom.
In the Slalom there is one racer head and shoulders above everyone else: USA’s Mikaela Shiffrin won most of her races last season by over two seconds. Shiffrin is clear favourite to win her third World Championship Slalom gold. In short, the St Moritz World Championships should prove to be very exciting!