|BORMIO, Italy (March 16) - The Audi FIS Alpine World Cup has a different flag flying this year - the red, white and blue. For the first time in history, three Americans have claimed five of the 12 crystal globes. Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO) and Bode Miller (Bretton Woods, NH) took the overall titles, with Ted Ligety (Park City, UT) taking the giant slalom crown, Vonn the downhill and Miller the super combined.It's a benchmark that could have a strong impact on the fast-paced sport of alpine ski racing as young American racers see their heroes reaching the pinnacle of the sport. |
photo Doug Haney US Ski Team
"What America was able to do this season is incredible," said Vonn. "We made history. That's something I could have never imagined and the feeling is just amazing."
Turning the world upside down
"We're turning the world upside down in alpine ski racing," said U.S. Alpine Director Jesse Hunt. "To have two Americans win the overall, it's a special deal. And it's by a number of different athletes. What it says is that we're here to stay and dominate alpine ski racing."
There have been titles, including Miller's 2004 GS crown and 2005 overall. And Tamara McKinney and Phil Mahre doubled up as overall champs in 1983. But nothing compares to 2008.
"It's a historic day," said U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association President and CEO Bill Marolt. "We've never had this kind of result in the history of the program.
"When you put together plans and you think of creating a great Team, these are the things you plan for," said Marolt. "You don't always achieve it. But when you do, there's a special sense of accomplishment."
Hero inspires Vonn to achieve dream
Champions and heroes are a key to success in sport. Just look at the Lindsey Vonn story. As a young racer at the Twin Cities' Buck Hill, the then Lindsey Kildow watched as Picabo Street won the World Cup downhill title in 1995. And that became her life goal. And she headed to the mountains and Ski Club Vail to chase her dream.
"It's Lindsey's story, it's Ted's story. They experienced having the dream and pursuing that dream," said Hunt.
"I've always dreamed of winning the globe and an Olympic gold," said Vonn. "It's those dreams that keep me motivated to ski and it's just so much bigger that I've achieved one of those goals with Ted and Bode also winning titles.
"But so much of what I was able to do is because of the people who have helped me this season - my coaches, the U.S. Ski Team staff, my sponsors and teammates. There's so much that I could never have done without all this support."
Young Ligety upends seasoned veteran
Ligety, meanwhile, came out of the chute fast in October with a second in Soelden. "He started out establishing himself as one of the favorites," said Hunt. "But it was tough going against a veteran like Benni [Raich] who knows what he has to do. Ted was just the young guy coming in upsetting the experience veteran.
"It's a testament to his focus. He's an amazing athlete."
Ligety grew up in a ski racing town, Park City, watching his heroes at America's Opening World Cup. In the summer he attended Park City's Winter School to keep his winters free for ski racing.
"Watching Lindsey this year totally dominating everyone in downhill and winning the overall is super cool," said Ligety. "I'm psyched to win the GS title, but what I did pales in comparison to what she was able to achieve. It's amazing what the U.S. was able to achieve and I'm psyched to be a part of it."
"You could see this year, through his consistency and ability to handle pressure, that now he'll be able to branch out to other events and challenge for the overall," said Men's Head Coach Phil McNichol, who has worked with Ted for over a decade. "And he's got a great team behind him with Sully [Marco Sullivan], Steven [Nyman], Jimmy [Cochran] and the others."
Team applauds Miller's dedication and success
Miller had a good opener in Soelden (finishing 5th in a GS), but was off the pace in the opening speed events. But by mid-December he was back on the podium, getting his first win later that month in a downhill in Bormio. And then he went on a tear in January, setting the stage for his overall title.
"Bode has just been so dedicated," said Hunt. "He's been working super hard and it showed. His focus has been great. He's skiing tactically and strategically. He has a lot to be proud of and my hat's off to Bode. It's a testament to his determination."
"Bode was great," said Ligety. "Watching him come through the second part of the year after everyone was counting him out was amazing."
"The entire season we've celebrated his success," said Marolt. "We knew he was capable and we applaud it. He came up through the USSA system and is very much a part of what we do. We're all proud of what he's accomplished."
"We made history!" says Vonn
Hunt was excited about the ripple effect the World Cup titles could have on ski racing in America. "It's exciting, as a kid, to see a nation have success - to see an individual reach the top. It gives the sport a lot of credibility and will motivate these young athletes.
"It's a long road and to be able to have that dream, that's the key component. When our athletes are at the top of the world, those dreams seems more real. The first thing you have to achieve is to believe. We're getting the American kids to believe."
"The U.S. Ski Team has such a great group right now," said Ligety. "The staff is great and my teammates are awesome. The only way for us to succeed is to have fun and we all have such a great time."
As Vonn said, they made history. And Vonn and Ligety are happy to be in the dreams of future champions.
photo Getty Images