|SOELDEN, Austria - Olympic champions Julia Mancuso (Olympic Valley, CA), who challenged for the overall title until the last week of the 2007 season, lead a ready-to-go U.S. Ski Team into the opening races of the 2008 season on the Rettenbach Glacier in Soelden. Excellent conditions are expected to greet thousands of spectators for the popular early-season Audi World Cup openers this weekend.|
The women race a giant slalom Saturday and the men compete Sunday in another GS. Rain and warm temperatures a year ago forced cancellation of the Soelden races, but course crews have been grooming and spreading machine-made snow in the finish area and along the course to produce the best conditions possible. Single-digit temperatures during the week have helped boost course prep.
WCSN.com will have coverage Saturday and Sunday, beginning at noon ET each day.
"We're excited to get the season underway," Alpine Director Jesse Hunt said. "Our athletes are coming off a good preparation period - including a very good tech camp in New Zealand - and we're anxious to see where we stack up against everyone. We feel we're ready."
Hunt: Hill favors veterans
"Veterans have an advantage on this hill and although we'll have some younger skiers racing, we've got athletes with strong experience in Soelden. It's a challenging hill, no question, but we've had success there and we're looking for more to open the season."
The U.S. women will have eight skiers starting, led by Mancuso, the 2006 Olympic GS champion, and newlywed Lindsey (Kildow) Vonn. Mancuso finished third in the 2007 World Cup overall standings, the best U.S. women's performance since 1984. Kildow was close to the leaders, too, until injuring a knee during training at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships and electing to rest the injury and skip the rest of the season.
"Julia has skied well during the preseason and we're looking for her to be among the top skiers, and Lindsey's making a nice comeback, so this will be a good test," Hunt said.
Other U.S. women include: Olympians Resi Stiegler (Jackson Hole, WY) and Stacey Cook (Mammoth Mountain, CA) plus Megan McJames (Park City, UT), runner-up for the NorAm giant slalom title in 2007 after winning in 2006; Caitlin Ciccone (Bethlehem, NH), Katie Hitchcock (Carmichael, CA) and Lauren Ross (Stowe, VT).
photos Janos Schmidt