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The White Circus Returns to Speed

By Megan Harrod
January, 11 2018
Bennett 1-10-18
Bryce Bennett was 20th in Thursday's downhill training run in Wengen, Switzerland. (Getty Images/Agence Zoom - Alexis Boichard)

After a busy, full-steam ahead tech run, where Mikaela went five for five victories, it’s time for the White Circus train to change the pace a bit and hit the next stop on its journey. Next stop: two of the most challenging tracks on the circuit. Welcome to the Lauberhornrennen and the Kärnten-Franz Klammer. That is Wengen, Switzerland and Bad Kleinkirchheim, Austria.

The women's speed team enjoyed a sizable three-week break from competition, but they're eager to get back into the swing of things. To say they were antsy is an understatement. With holidays spent back home in the states and a return to snow with some of the best training they’ve had all season in San Pellegrino, Italy, this crew is amped to return to competition.

The women are so amped that Lindsey Vonn (Vail, Colo.) posted a picture on Instagram of herself celebrating with the caption, “The face I make when it’s finally speed week!!!” Vonn will lead a deep squad of speed women into a super-G and downhill this weekend while current downhill standings leader Mikaela Shiffrin (Eagle-Vail, Colo.) will take a much-deserved weekend off from competition. Shiffrin – who also has a massive 821-point lead in the overall standings, and leads the slalom and giant slalom standings – will rejoin the speed team next weekend in Cortina, Italy.

Vonn will look to build her FIS Alpine World Cup career tally to 79 victories, and therefore one step closer to the legendary Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86 victories. She’ll battle a diverse field the next couple of weekends, as the last seven World Cup downhill events have been won by seven different women – Vonn, Christine Scheyer, Lara Gut, Sofia Goggia, Ilka Štuhec (out with injury), Cornelia Hütter and Shiffrin.

However, Vonn will not only battle the diverse field – she'll also battle the conditions in Bad Kleinkirchheim. With snow then rain pounding the surface, the organizers have had quite the challenge prepping the track. Wednesday's training run was canceled, as the bottom of the course featured "death cookies" and "sugary" snow – certainly not ideal for downhill. Due to the conditions, the organizers and FIS have decided to move the super-G to Saturday and the downhill to Sunday. 

"It's a difficult situation right now with the way the snow is and the way they prepared the course," Vonn said. "I'm not sure if we're going to be able to get a race off. They're definitely trying as hard as they can, and we'll have to see what things look like at inspection and we'll take it from there. The top is good, but the bottom is not safe to race, so I'm going to have to see how things look and make a decision tomorrow." Vonn's focus remains on the Olympics, so she'll assess the risk and make a game time decision on her participation. 

Over in Wengen, the American Downhillers are in classics heaven on the fabled Lauberhorn downhill. At nearly three miles long, this track is a test of pure athleticism and stamina. To put this into perspective – it is over two and a half minutes of leg-burning pain down a 2.78-mile course with speeds pushing 100 mph. In fact, the top speed on the World Cup was reached here in 2013, when Frenchman Johan Clarey hit a max speed of 100.6 mph at the Haneggschuss, the fastest section of the track.

Though the American Downhillers struggled in the first training run on Wednesday, it is important to remember that athletes are using training runs to dial in their strategy for race day. Team leader and veteran Steven Nyman (Sundance, Utah) is feeling good and will return to competition in Wengen, though his focus remains on building towards PyeongChang.

Jared Goldberg (Holladay, Utah) and Bryce Bennett (Squaw Valley, Cali.), who have both found a new level of consistency and focus this season, both had strong training run results on Thursday, landing in seventh and 20th, respectively.

“I’m feeling good; I learned a lot in my first training run,” said Goldberg after Thursday’s run. “I was pretty all over the place. I’ve been here a bunch of years and I just started to put it all together today in the run. I think I still have a couple places I can clean up, but today was a much cleaner run. I’d like to ski the way I can and put this thing together, so I’m just trying to keep building off what I’ve been doing the last races and not expect too much and just have fun – because it really is a fun course.”

Though the weather proved to be challenging early in the week, with Tuesday’s training run canceled, Goldberg and teammates used the opportunity to play hockey – a Wengen American Downhiller tradition – and stay optimistic about conditions for the weekend.

“The conditions aren’t too bad considering all the weather, but that’s a pretty normal thing here,” noted Goldberg. “The course is just under three miles long and it goes from pretty high altitude – where the top is winter and the bottom is pretty soft snow. They’re salting on the bottom and the top is pretty much all winter snow, so a lot of different conditions as you go down, and that’s just what adds to the coolness factor of this race.”

The men will start the weekend off early with an alpine combined Friday, followed by the downhill on Saturday and slalom Sunday. Fans can look forward to watching Ted Ligety (Park City, Utah) – who has been training some impressive slalom – in Friday’s alpine combined.

Nolan Kasper (Warren, VT), who has been sidelined with an injury the last two seasons and was slated to return to competition in Adelboden, Switzerland, will be returning to competition in Wengen. His last World Cup start was Schladming, Austria on January 27, 2015. Keep an eye on Kasper, as he has one career podium from 2011 and has worked extremely hard to come back from injuries.

Steve Schlanger and U.S. Ski Team alumnus Steve Porino will call the action in the coming week.  See who to watch and where to catch all the action below.

Bad Kleinkirchheim, AUT

  • Stacey Cook
  • Breezy Johnson
  • Julia Mancuso
  • Tricia Mangan
  • Alice McKennis
  • Alice Merryweather
  • Laurenne Ross
  • Lindsey Vonn
  • Jackie Wiles

Wengen, SUI

  • Bryce Bennett
  • David Chodounsky
  • Ryan Cochran-Siegle
  • Drew Duffy
  • Mark Engel
  • AJ Ginnis
  • Jared Goldberg
  • Nolan Kasper
  • Ted Ligety
  • Steven Nyman
  • Hig Roberts
  • Kipling Weisel

NOTE: Final starters have yet to be solidified. Stay tuned to our social channels for updated information.

All times EST
Friday, Jan. 12
4:30 a.m. – Men’s combined, downhill; Wengen –
10:00 a.m. – Men’s combined, slalom; Wengen – Olympic Channel TV

Saturday, Jan. 13
4:30 a.m. – Women’s super-G; Bad Kleinkirchheim – Olympic Channel TV
6:30 a.m. – Men’s downhill; Wengen – Olympic Channel TV
10:00 p.m. – Women’s Super-G; Bad Kleinkirchheim – NBCSN (same day coverage)
11:00 p.m. – Men’s downhill; Wengen – NBCSN (same day coverage)

Sunday, Jan. 14
4:15 a.m. – Men’s slalom, run 1; Wengen –
5:00 a.m. – Women’s downhill; Bad Kleinkirchheim – Olympic Channel TV
6:30 a.m. – Men’s slalom, run 2; Wengen – Olympic Channel TV

Men’s Training Run 1
Men’s Training Run 2

Women's Training Run

Men’s Alpine Combined