Tina Maze in reach of greatest World Cup season in history
LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland (AP) -- Tina Maze is targeting the greatest season in World Cup history, and aims to start finals week on Wednesday by dethroning downhill queen Lindsey Vonn.
On the men's side in Lenzerheide, Aksel Lund Svindal likely must repeat his stunning run of victories here in 2007 to beat Marcel Hirscher for the overall title.
Hirscher's outstanding giant slalom form has been eclipsed only by Ted Ligety's career year, and the three-time world champion from the U.S. goes for a sixth World Cup win on Saturday.
Despite Vonn's absence because of a knee injury - and missing other star attractions such as Bode Miller, resting for the Olympic season, and retired home favorite Didier Cuche - the season finale likely will be decided tiny margins.
In 46 World Cup seasons, only French great Jean-Claude Killy in 1967 has ever swept their season's titles. Maze can match that this week in a more competitive era, and sustaining her excellence in more than twice as many races.
"I was dreaming about this as a kid, that I would be so good," the Slovenian said Tuesday. "I am really living it."
When Killy dominated the inaugural men's circuit, he topped the overall, downhill, giant slalom and slalom standings across a 17-race season from January to March.
Maze will complete a 37-race, five-month campaign on Sunday with a record points total, approaching 2,500. She can add downhill, super-G and slalom titles to the overall and GS crystal globes she locked up weeks ago.
"After a long season, I am happy and proud," said Maze, who competed in five races at the world championships last month and took home a gold medal and two silvers.
The successful U.S. team - and the season's breakout star Mikaela Shiffrin - pose the biggest danger to a Maze sweep in slalom.
Shiffrin, who celebrates her 18th birthday Wednesday, has three wins to Maze's two, and trails by just seven points with 100 awarded to the race winner on Saturday.
Maze had already outpaced Vonn, who was slowed by illness in November, before the defending champion's season-ended crash in the worlds super-G, which Maze won.
Such is Vonn's strength in downhill that the five-time title winner still leads the season-long standings, but her 1-point margin won't last if Maze starts and gets a top-15 placing on Wednesday.
The weather forecast suggests the race will happen, though Maze can be overtaken by Vonn's good friend, Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, or her American teammate Stacey Cook.
Weather poses a greater risk to Thursday's super-G, but cancelling will give Maze the title and deny second-place Julia Mancuso a shot at earning her first career crystal.
"I'm psyched to be in the hunt," the American said Tuesday.
But Mancuso is realistic.
"In order to win the globe, you have to win races and I haven't won races this season," she said.
Mancuso believes Maze's season ranks among the all-time greatest.
"Definitely. In the modern day it's super-impressive, especially when there are no guys that can be competitive in four disciplines," Mancuso said.
Svindal hopes the season-ending men's slalom on Sunday - Hirscher's specialist event - won't be decisive even though he starts the week 149 points back.
The Norwegian need to win the downhill, super-G and GS races - as he did six years ago to take his first giant crystal globe. He was second in 2009.
"It basically means bringing out the best week of my career," said Svindal, who leads the downhill standings going into Wednesday's race and already secured the super-G title. "I have had a really good season and (Hirscher) just had an even better one."
Svindal's threat has Hirscher concerned enough to plan a rare start in super-G.
Even another thrilling Ligety-Hirscher duel that day could be simply a sidebar to Maze vs. Shiffrin with history in the making.