Fight for women's overall World Cup title is wide open
SOELDEN, Austria (AP) With two-time defending champion Anna Fenninger out injured and 2013 winner Tina Maze taking a break from ski racing, the fight for this season's women's overall World Cup title seems wide open.
Add the retirement of Austrian duo Nicole Hosp and Kathrin Zettel, and only three of last year's top-seven skiers are in the start gate when the new season gets underway with a giant slalom on the Rettenbach glacier on Saturday.
It could open up the way for a first-time champion, with Mikaela Shiffrin, Lara Gut and Viktoria Rebensburg widely regarded as main contenders.
Or it could help Lindsey Vonn earn her fifth career crystal globe and first since 2012.
Fenninger badly damaged her right knee in a training crash Wednesday and was ruled out for the entire season. The Austrian came from behind in the overall standings to beat Maze last season. The Slovenian, one of the last all-event skiers on the circuit, decided to sit out the new campaign, which lacks highlights as Olympic Games or world championships.
Going by last year's standings, Vonn and Shiffrin would be next in line to win the sport's biggest annual prize.
Fenninger and Maze went 1-2 with more than 1,500 points each, followed by Vonn on 1,087 and Shiffrin on 1,036. Another huge 400-point gap separated the Amercans from Sweden's Frida Hansdotter, the only other skier from last year's top seven to race this season.
Having recovered from the knee injuries that kept her away from the Sochi Olympics in 2014, Vonn won eight races and beat Annemarie Moser-Proell's all-time record of 62 World Cup victories.
Coming back from yet another injury as she fractured her ankle in the offseason, Vonn was aware of her chances to get a fifth championship.
''It's unfortunate that (Anna and Tina) are not going to be around this year,'' she said. ''It's much better for the sport when they are here. But as far as competition and titles are concerned, it makes it easier for me to score big points.''
Her teammate Shiffrin has dominated women's slalom skiing since 2012, winning the discipline's season title three straight years, two world titles and Olympic gold.
Shiffrin shared victory with Fenninger in the season-opener last season and finished third in the giant slalom standings. Now she plans to add the super-G to her repertoire as well.
''I think the U.S. are in a cool position right now with two really good chances for the overall,'' Shiffrin said. ''(Vonn) is holding the fort on the speed side, I'll do my best at the tech side and maybe we can meet in between.''
In their battle against the Americans Rebensburg and Gut will be looking to gain consistency, which had been lacking for both in recent seasons, partly because of injuries.
Rebensburg improved in the speed events in recent years tough GS remained her strongest discipline, winning Olympic gold in 2010 and silver at the worlds in February.
''You have to be very consistent,'' the German said. ''I'll try to take the flow from past seasons with me. I have to start the season in GS better than last year. You have to live from race to race.''
Gut finished third in 2014 but dropped to ninth last season and decided to switch her equipment supplier. The Swiss skier joined Head in the offseason and spent much time on getting used to the new material.
''We tried many new things during the summer,'' said Gut, who received help from former downhill great Didier Cuche.
''It was great working with Didier. We trained together for one week. He has helped me with sorting out everything regarding the new material.''
For Gut, who also took over Cuche's former ski technician, Chris Krause, the fight for the big crystal globe isn't too complicated.
''To compete for the overall title, you have to win races. To win races, you have to ski fast. So all I can do is ski as fast as I can.''