The Men’s Alpine Skiing World Cup will continue this weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta with a downhill on Saturday and a super-G on Sunday.
The defending downhill and super-G World Cup champion, Kjetil Jansrud, won both races in Lake Louise last year and is one of the biggest favorites this year. Still, winning both speed titles was only enough for the second place in the overall; the slalom and giant slalom World Cup champion Marcel Hirscher beat Jansrud by 160 points for the overall title.
One of Jansrud’s biggest challengers comes from inside the Norwegian team. The 2007 and 2009 overall World Cup champion Aksel Lund Svindal missed the last World Cup season after tearing his left achilles tendon just before the season started, though he was able to make a comeback at the World Championships. Given the Worlds were his only races that season, finishing sixth in both super-G and downhill were great results, showing it could have been a great season from him. Now he returns to Lake Louise where he won he has won the last three super-Gs he has raced in 2011-2013 as well as won the downhill twice in 2011 and 2012.
Before missing last season, Svindal had done in the previous two seasons what Jansrud did last season. In 2013 and 2014, Svindal won both downhill and super-G World Cup titles, yet finished the overall World Cup second to Hirscher. Winning both speed titles hasn’t been enough for the overall because of Hirscher’s domination in the technical disciplines, and also the number of technical events is higher than the number of speed events. Winning the overall World Cup would have required at least a top five position in the giant slalom standings from Svindal and Jansrud whereas they are struggling to finish even inside top 20.
Looking at the results of the season-opening Sölden giant slalom, Hannes Reichelt may be the speed specialist with the best chance for the overall World Cup. After some difficult seasons in GS, the 35-year-old Austrian struggled to make the second round with a high start number in Sölden, yet finished 16th with the second-fastest second run. Although he’d probably need better results than 16th in giant slalom, the second round looks like he has potential for more.
Anyway, the Sölden giant slalom showed Reichelt should be in good form, and it’s the speed events where he excels. He’s finished second in the downhill World Cup in last two seasons as well as won the classic Lauberhorn downhill last season and the Hahnenkamm downhill in 2014. He finished fourth last season in the super-G World Cup that he won in 2008 and he won the super-G World Championship gold medal last winter. He is surely one of the favorites in both speed disciplines.
The 2014 downhill Olympic gold medalist Matthias Mayer is another Austrian whom one can expect to succeed well in the speed disciplines. He finished last season third in super-G and fourth in downhill standings. At 25 years of age, he is still an improving skier. He missed the season-opening GS of Sölden after severe leg bruising from a training crash. He was reported to have been very fast in GS training before this season and his best GS result has been sixth at the 2014 Olympics, so he might also have a competitive combination of strong speed disciplines and a good giant slalom for a good result in the overall World Cup. In speed disciplines, he is definitely one of the favorites.
Another young skier with a strong 2014-15 season was Dominik Paris. The 2013 Hahnenkamm downhill winner made his breakthrough also in super-G, scoring his first podium in Lake Louise, then first win in Kitzbühel, and finishing in second place in super-G standings. Also in downhill, he scored multiple podiums and finished the season in fourth place of the standings. One can expect the 26-year-old Italian to be a contender for the World Cup titles in both speed disciplines, though he is purely a speed specialist and not doing giant slalom makes it hard to achieve biggest success in the overall World Cup.
USA’s Ted Ligety won the only race of the season so far, the Sölden giant slalom, and will probably be on the start list in Lake Louise’s super-G. Ligety is the 2013 World Championship gold medalist in super-G, yet his super-G performances are very inconsistent and depend on the course setting. That World Championship is his only super-G win on top level and his only World Cup podium is as far as from the 2009-10 season.
After winning the super-G, giant slalom, and alpine combined at the 2013 World Championship, one might expect such a versatile skier to be a strong contender for the overall World Cup. Still, Ligety’s best finish is third from the 2012-13 season. He would need another strong discipline besides his strong giant slalom, yet finishing both super-G and slalom in 39th place last season isn’t that. Lake Louise will help to see if Ligety could have returned to his 2012-13 level in super-G. If he could do that, then he could be a serious contender in the overall World Cup.
Alexis Pinturault of France has a similar repertoire to Ligety; giant slalom, super-G, and slalom. Giant slalom is also his best discipline, even though it is not as good as Ligety’s. But Pinturault had much better super-G and slalom than Ligety, finishing 10th in both disciplines’ standings last year, resulting into third place in the overall World Cup.
Pinturault still has a big task to catch Hirscher and Jansrud. The 24-year-old Frenchman lost 442 points to Hirscher; he can’t make that all by still improving his super-G, he needs to improve also in his other disciplines. He will not be among the biggest favorites to win the super-G in Lake Louise but he will be an interesting man to watch because of his overall title campaign.
Two interesting Canadians to watch in Lake Louise are Erik Guay and Jan Hudec, both returning from knee injuries. Guay, the 2010 super-G World Cup champion and 2011 downhill World Championship gold medalist had a pair of surgeries that kept him off last season. The 2007 Lake Louise downhill winner as well as World silver and Olympic bronze medalist Hudec had to end his last season after a knee injury he sustained in December required surgery. Now they both are doing comeback at their home races.