Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin, Julia Mancuso, Ted Ligety, Tim Jitloff, Robby Kelley and Warner Nickerson will start the Audi FIS World Cup opener in Soelden (Mitchell Gunn/ESPA)
SOELDEN, Austria (Oct. 25) – All eyes are focused on defending Soelden champions Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO) and Ted Ligety (Park City, UT) this weekend when the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup opens with a pair of giant slalom races high on the Rettenbach glacier. The duo combined to sweep the top of the podium last October with Vonn picking up the first World Cup giant slalom win of her career and Ligety notching his fourth straight podium in Soelden. With the race start at 10,000 feet, the Soelden race hill opens with a gradual pitch then takes a diving turn over the glacier knuckle onto a notoriously icy pitch into the glacier stadium. Olympic giant slalom gold medalist Julia Mancuso (Squaw Valley, CA) has a Soelden podium to her credit and will also be in the gate along with Soelden rookies Mikaela Shiffrin (Eagle-Vail, CO) and Robby Kelley (Starksboro, VT). Notably absent is Bode Miller (Franconia, NH) who is still recovering from spring knee surgery. The U.S. Ski Team has been in Soelden, their European Training Base, since mid-month prepping for the season opener.
The Audi FIS Alpine World Cup season begins Oct. 27 in Soelden, Austria with a women's giant slalom, followed by a men's giant slalom on Oct. 28.
Four-time World Cup overall champion Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO) and reigning giant slalom World Champion Ted Ligety (Park City, UT) are the defending Soelden champions.
Last season's Soelden win for Vonn was the first giant slalom victory of her career and placed her into an elite category of athlete to have won in all five World Cup disciplines.
Ligety, who has been on the Soelden podium in four straight races on the glacier, has scored more World Cup points in Soelden than any World Cup athlete.
It will also be the first World Cup race on new race skis after the FIS instituted a change in the minimum radius for a giant slalom ski from 27 to 35 meters.
The U.S. Ski Team has been training in Soelden, their European Training Base, since mid-month and was able to train for two days on the World Cup race hill.
Women's starters also include Julia Mancuso (Squaw Valley, CA), Mikaela Shiffrin (Eagle-Vail, CO) and Megan McJames (Park City, UT). Tim Jitloff (Reno, NV), Robby Kelley (Starksboro, VT) and Warner Nickerson (Gilford, NH) will also start for U.S. men.
It will be the first World Cup start for Kelley, who is a member of the famous "Skiing Cochran's" family, and the first start in Soelden for Shiffrin, 17, who scored giant slalom points during her rookie year on tour and had a slalom podium last winter.
QUOTES Lindsey Vonn Winning in Soelden last season was incredibly special. It set the tone for my year and I went on to score more giant slalom points than I did in the last three seasons combined. That was a huge factor in winning the back the overall and nearly breaking the World Cup points record.
It's a new year and we all start with zero points, but I'm stronger than I ever have been, I've put in all the work that I know it will take to win titles. On Saturday, we'll see where we all stand and learn a lot about what we need to do before the season really gets going.
Ted Ligety It's going to take a lot more strength to turn the new skis, that's for sure. But we knew that and so I spent more time in the gym this summer than I ever have.
I've been fast on the new skis in training and they perform well on hard snow conditions, but they are not as responsive in soft snow. How will they perform this season? We'll find out Sunday.
Mikaela Shiffrin I feel like I should have more jitters than I actually do. We've been training in Soelden for a few weeks and so I've seen all of my heroes out on the hill. I think if I'd just shown up a day before the race and seen them, I'd be pretty nervous right now.
More than anything, I can't wait to race. I think as athletes we all feel that. We've done so much training and worked so hard since last season that we just want to race.
Robby Kelley It's incredible to think that Soelden will be my first World Cup start. I've seen Ted [Ligety] dominate this hill the last five years and training with him these last few weeks has really helped me gain some perspective on what it takes to be fast.