Best in the world? Almost |

Best in the world? Almost

Tom Kelly

It’s been more than five months since Ted Ligety opened the 2013 Audi FIS Alpine World Cup with a dominating win in Soelden, Austria. Remember the 2.75-second victory?

That win kicked off a stellar season for U.S. skiers and snowboarders with eight World Cup crystal globes, 20 World Championship medals and a host of X Games titles. But with just 310 days until the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, eyes are squarely focused on the future.

This Saturday (1 p.m. at Park City Mountain Resort), fans will pay tribute to hometown hero Ted Ligety, his record three World Championship gold medals and fourth Audi FIS World Cup GS title.

Sport is about celebration. On Ted’s mind, though, will be the 2014 season and the Best in the World goal he established for himself. He’ll think back to that moment as a 21-year-old in Torino and the surprise Olympic gold in combined. A few painful thoughts will cross his mind of the medal he didn’t get in Vancouver. He’ll be reminded of the work he put in last summer getting better on the new GS skis than anyone else in the world. But mostly he’ll revel in the celebration while all the time thinking ahead.

Last Friday, veteran Lindsey Vonn and rookie Mikaela Shiffrin paraded in front of hometown fans in Vail. It was a study in contrasts. Lindsey was the highly decorated Olympic champion who literally won the downhill title in her sleep this year – a record sixth straight and an unprecedented 17th crystal globe. Mikaela, on the other hand, brought youthful exuberance as she won World Championship gold in slalom along with the crystal globe that she claimed on the very last slalom run of the season.

A mere 11 seasons after she took Olympic gold in the snowboard halfpipe in Park City, Kelly Clark is still the woman to beat. Sure, teammates Elena Hight and rookie Arielle Gold took their shots this year. But when X Games gold was on the line, Clark was there to claim it. But she saw challengers this season and knows that she has to be totally game on to follow her Sochi test-event win with Olympic gold next season.

In the new Olympic freeskiing events, a new generation made its mark this year. David Wise rose up to become halfpipe skiing’s big new star, but constantly had teenager Torin Yater-Wallace nipping at his tails. Maddie Bowman made her mark with X Games gold. And slopestyle’s superstar Tom Wallisch moved into a more global spotlight with World Champs slopestyle gold.

Hannah Kearney learned how quickly things can change with a training crash last fall in Zermatt taking her out of the first third of the season. Still, she won her third straight crystal globe in moguls and reclaimed the World Championship gold she first won in 2005. Still, she was challenged each weekend by a new wave of Canadians plus her own teammates led by Heather McPhie.

Park City was a launching pad for the three nordic teams last fall. Some only returned home to the USA this week for the SuperTour Finals in California’s Tahoe Donner. The long season was productive, with Kikkan Randall winning back-to-back World Cup sprint crowns and finishing third in the overall. In February, Randall teamed with Jessie Diggins for World Championship gold in the team sprint while the favorite sons of Lake Placid, Steamboat and Park City won nordic combined bronze in the team event.

Park City’s own Sarah Hendrickson came into the season having won nine of 13 World Cups a year ago – for which Utah Governor Gary Herbert has declared her Olympian of the Year for 2012, a great honor, but ironic in that her sport won’t debut at the Olympics until next season in Sochi. Despite her December win in the Sochi test event, Hendrickson knows what she needs to do this summer to prepare for the Olympics.

This season, Japan’s even younger teen phenom, Sara Takanashi, bumped Hendrickson to second in the season standings. But on the one day where gold really counted, the American came through with a win at the World Championships.

A season to celebrate? For sure. Best in the World? Not quite. That honor went to Norway. But a hundred U.S. athletes will be working hard this summer to change that in Sochi next February.

NOTE: Park City, you’ll get your chance to meet and celebrate Ted Ligety with a community celebration at Park City Mountain Resort, Saturday, April 6, at 1 p.m.

One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president, Communications, for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A Wisconsin native, he and his wife Carole Duh have lived in Park City since 1988 when he’s not traveling the world with the team.

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