SOELDEN, AUSTRIA (News Release - Oct. 24) - Olympic champions Julia Mancuso (Olympic Valley, CA), who challenged for the overall title until the last week of the 2007 season, and Ted Ligety (Park City, UT) will lead a ready-to-go U.S. Ski Team into the opening races of the 2008 season on the Rettenbach Glacier in Soelden. Excellent conditions are expected to greet thousands of spectators for the popular early-season Audi World Cup openers this weekend.
The women race a giant slalom Saturday and the men compete Sunday in another GS. Rain and warm temperatures a year ago forced cancellation of the Soelden races, but course crews have been grooming and spreading machine-made snow in the finish area and along the course to produce the best conditions possible. Single-digit temperatures during the week have helped boost course prep.
WCSN.com will have coverage Saturday and Sunday, beginning at noon ET each day.
"We're excited to get the season underway," Alpine Director Jesse Hunt said. "Our athletes are coming off a good preparation period - including a very good tech camp in New Zealand - and we're anxious to see where we stack up against everyone. We feel we're ready."
Hunt: Hill favors veterans
"Veterans have an advantage on this hill and although we'll have some younger skiers racing, we've got athletes with strong experience in Soelden. It's a challenging hill, no question, but we've had success there and we're looking for more to open the season."
The U.S. women will have eight skiers starting, led by Mancuso, the 2006 Olympic GS champion, and newlywed Lindsey (Kildow) Vonn. Mancuso finished third in the 2007 World Cup overall standings, the best U.S. women's performance since 1984. Kildow was close to the leaders, too, until injuring a knee during training at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships and electing to rest the injury and skip the rest of the season.
"Julia has skied well during the preseason and we're looking for her to be among the top skiers, and Lindsey's making a nice comeback, so this will be a good test," Hunt said.
Other U.S. women include: Olympians Resi Stiegler (Jackson Hole, WY) and Stacey Cook (Mammoth Mountain, CA) plus Megan McJames (Park City, UT), runnerup for the NorAm giant slalom title in 2007 after winning in 2006; Caitlin Ciccone (Bethlehem, NH), Katie Hitchcock (Carmichael, CA) and Lauren Ross (Stowe, VT).
The men's starting lineup includes five Olympians - Ligety, former World Cup champion Bode Miller (Bretton Woods, NH), who won in Soelden to open the 2005 season (and is training independently this season), Erik Schlopy (Park City, UT), Jimmy Cochran (Keene, NH) and Dane Spencer (Boise, ID). Also starting are 2007 NorAm GS champion Tim Jitloff (Reno, NV) and Jake Zamansky (Aspen, CO).
Ligety looks to repeat success
Ligety earned the first top-10 of his World Cup career two years ago on the glacier by posting the fastest second run and moving up to eighth place overall. "Ted's coming into the season off some great training in New Zealand and then in Chile, and he's ready to rip," Hunt said. "It could be a good course for him."
Despite the machine-made snow, Hunt explained that conditions on the glacier will be challenging, particularly for the newcomers. "When there's not a lot of snow, the break-overs and the transitions on the course (e.g., from steep to rolling terrain) can be very aggressive. That makes it especially tough, and I would expect conditions to make it a very challenging run."
He added, "A new pecking order can get established every year, based on time trials within the Team during the preparation period. Soelden will be a great opportunity for our young athletes to shine."