Women's alpine World Cup starts without favorite
SOELDEN, Austria (AP) With four different winners over the past four years, the women's Alpine skiing World Cup lacks a clear favorite for the overall title just before the start of the new season.
Lindsey Vonn and Maria Hoefl-Riesch used to be safe bets for the top two spots. But the American, who won her fourth and most recent title in 2012, is coming off a serious injury and is expected to compete in a reduced number of races. Germany's Hoefl-Riesch, who was the 2011 champion, has retired.
Defending champion Anna Fenninger of Austria is likely to face stiff competition again from the likes of Lara Gut, Tina Weirather and Tina Maze. And perhaps even from American slalom standout Mikaela Shiffrin, who aims to become more of an all-around skier.
''I have raised the bar for myself. Many people believe I can just repeat it but it isn't that easy,'' Fenninger said Thursday, two days before a giant slalom on the Rettenbach glacier opens a season that will be highlighted by the world championships in Vail and Beaver Creek, Colorado, in February.
In a dramatic finish to last season, Fenninger defeated Hoefl-Riesch, who crashed and injured herself in the final downhill, to secure Austria's first overall title since Nicole Hosp in 2007. Fenninger also won the GS title.
''I have to put last year behind me,'' she said. ''I can only benefit from experience, not from the successes. My feeling for the new season is good. I am really looking forward to it. Only doing training runs for so long gets boring.''
Besides Vonn and Hoefl-Riesch, Liechtenstein's Weirather was another racer whose title hopes were derailed by injury. Weirather was second in the overall standings before a season-ending crash in training on the Olympic downhill course in Sochi in February.
Meanwhile, the racer with the most wins last season was Gut. The Swiss skier placed first in seven races compared to Fenninger's four, but she finished third overall behind the Austrian and Hoefl-Riesch. She did take the globe for best super-G racer, though.
Gut, who got her campaign started with a win in Soelden, said she needed to improve on consistency. In GS, she had three podium finishes and a fifth place but failed to finish the four other races.
''Those were mistakes, it's as easy as that,'' Gut said. ''You have to race at your limits if you want to win. The difference between the best time and not finishing is small. If I wouldn't take risks for a whole season, I wouldn't get top results, either.''
Maze won two gold medals at the Sochi Olympics but struggled on the World Cup circuit, failing to reproduce the form that saw her take the overall title with a record 2,424 points a year earlier. The Slovenian, who is the only active skier besides Vonn to have won races in all five Alpine disciplines, finished fourth.
Maze told Slovenian media this month that she wanted to have one more go at the overall title before taking a season off - and possibly ending her career as she will turn 32 next year.
For Shiffrin, however, age is not an issue. The 19-year-old American has dominated women's slalom racing since 2012 by winning two World Cup discipline titles, the world championship and Olympic gold, and is vastly improving in GS.
The teenager plans to start racing in super-G as well, which could make her an outside contender for the overall title.
''It's a goal, I think it would be incredible to win the overall title even this year, if I have a shot at it,'' Shiffrin said. ''It's so tough to say. Especially right now, nobody has raced yet. Some girls race four of three events well, and I am right now racing two, and maybe a little bit of super-G. In an ideal world, I can win the overall title.''