PYEONGCHANG, South Korea: Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn head up a US women´s alpine ski team aiming to dominate the Pyeongchang Olympics, while Austrian Marcel Hirscher targets a first individual title.
Shiffrin is just 22 but already has 40 World Cup victories already to her name. She arrives in South Korea as reigning Olympic slalom champion, but can harbour hopes of a rare multi-medal haul because of a schedule she herself might have drawn up.
The opening giant slalom on Monday is followed by her slalom title defence, the super-G, downhill, combined and team events. A positive start in the giant slalom, and Shiffrin would be en route to multiple medals.
“If I compete in four events, it´s because I think I have shot to medal in four events,” said the American, who is the three-time defending world slalom champion having first won aged 17 in 2013.
“Five might be biting off too much. Even though I did go on record saying I want five gold medals — I want the world and (to be) the king of the universe and all those things.”She captured four races in seven days to begin 2018, and, importantly, claimed a first victory in a downhill, in Lake Louise in December.
It is, however, Shiffrin´s team-mate Vonn, a four-time overall World Cup champion, who leads the race (81) to overtake Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark´s record of 86 victories on the World Cup circuit.
Vonn won Olympic gold in the downhill and super-G bronze at the 2010 Games, but missed the 2014 Olympics through injury.As one of the most recognisable sportswomen in the world, Vonn will bring more than a little stardust to the slopes.
“I have so much confidence right now in my skiing, mentally, and my equipment,” Vonn said. “Everything is coming together better than I could have hoped or planned for. “And now I go into Korea with a couple of wins under my belt and I´m just really looking forward to skiing the same way... full charge! No holding back.
“I´m going to lay it all out on the table and see what happens.”The men´s races kick off with the downhill, which will be particularly poignant following the on-piste deaths of popular Frenchman David Poisson and German teenager Max Burkhart earlier this season.
Norwegians Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud shape as favourites on a slope said to be better suited to the more technically able downhillers.Austrian Matthias Mayer is the reigning speed champion, after stunning rivals in Sochi, and he forms part of a formidable quartet that also includes veteran Hannes Reichelt, Max Franz and Vincent Kriechmayr.
Switzerland´s Beat Feuz is the current world champion, having triumphed on home snow in St. Moritz last year, and is one of a dozen or so racers who could realistically push for a podium.
Away from the downhill, all eyes will be on Hirscher, a record six-time winner of the overall World Cup crystal globe who looks well set to extend that after notching up seven victories this season: three in the slalom and four in the giant slalom.
The 28-year-old has not enjoyed the same success on the Olympic stage, a slalom silver medal to his name from Sochi being his sole medal (behind now-retired compatriot Mario Matt). He finished a heart-breaking fourth twice in the giant slaloms in 2010 and 2014, and fifth in the Vancouver slalom.
With 55 World Cup victories to his name, Hirscher looks in the form of his life but knows he has strong competition in the shape of Norway´s Henrik Kristoffersen and American Ted Ligety, who will be bidding for a third Olympic medal when he defends his giant slalom title.
“It would be an amazing success, not a life-changing or career-changing success, but it would be really nice to have,” Hirscher said of an Olympic gold.“What is 100 percent sure is that I go for it, that´s the plan.”