There are extremely high expectations for American Mikaela Shiffrin at this weekend’s World Cup ski races at Killington, and rightfully so.
The slalom and giant slalom — skiing’s “technical” events — are the Olympic gold medalist’s specialty, and she’s a three-time World Cup slalom season champion. She’s also made it clear how important these races are to her because she attended the Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont and has a lot of family on the East Coast.
“Clearly she’s the favorite in both races,” said Tiger Shaw, president of the US Ski Team.
But there are 82 other names on the entry list. Can any prevail over Shiffrin?
The short answer is, of course, anything can happen.
The longer answer starts with Lara Gut of Switzerland, whose overall World Cup title is what Shiffrin has her eyes on this season. Gut won the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, and is entered only in the GS at Killington. She was third in last season’s GS standings.
At Soelden, Gut was more than a second ahead of Shiffrin, the runner-up.
While last season’s giant slalom champion, Eva-Marie Brem of Austria, is out with a broken leg, the next 16 finishers in the 2015-16 final standings are all entered at Killington. That includes second-place Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany, who was injured in training at Soelden but confirmed this week that she would race at Killington. Also entered is Marta Bassino of Italy, who was third at Soelden for her first World Cup podium.
Federica Brignone of Italy, Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein, and Nina Loseth of Norway are other names to watch in the giant slalom.
Giant slalom will be held Saturday, and slalom on Sunday. In both events, racers will take two runs on Killington’s Superstar course.
In slalom, Frida Hansdotter is the defending World Cup champion (Shiffrin missed part of last season with an injury). Hansdotter was in second place after the first run of the first World Cup slalom of the season, at Levi, Finland, but did not finish the second run.
Nine of last season’s top 10 slalom racers are on the Killington entry list.
Wendy Holdener of Switzerland was second in the season opener in Finland, and third in last season’s final standings. She said the momentum at the end of last season carried over.
“For sure the end of last season was great, so it gave me confidence,” Holdener told FIS-Ski.com. “I had to learn to be more aggressive on the skis. I really love skiing and it wasn’t easy to focus and give everything,”
Beyond Shiffrin, the US hopes rest with Resi Stiegler, who has 142 World Cup starts and one podium finish and is expected to compete both days. She had the eighth-fastest time in the second run at Levi and is a fairly consistent top 20 performer.
Three other American women will make their World Cup debuts: Nina O’Brien (giant slalom and slalom), Patricia Mangan (slalom), and Keely Cashman (slalom). Mangan is on the US’ “C” team, while Cashman and O’Brien are on the developmental team.Follow Matt Pepin on Twitter at @mattpep15.