Bode Miller is back after a full season off the World Cup ski-racing circuit due to a 2012 knee injury, starting Sunday in the World Cup opener in Soelden, Austria. But Lindsey Vonn isn’t far enough along in her recovery to race there in Saturday’s giant slalom.
“My physical preparation is probably the best it’s been in a long time,” Miller said in a press release. “In taking a year away from the World Cup, I’ve been able to let my knee heal completely. I’m ready to return to the World Cup on a hill where I had one of the first wins of my career.”
Miller won GS races in Soelden, the traditional season-opening venue, in 2003 and 2004. The five-time Olympic medalist and two-time overall World Cup champion recently turned 36 and has hinted this Olympic season (Sochi, Russia, in February) may be his last.
The 33-time World Cup winner will be hard-pressed to dethrone his American teammate and two-time defending Soelden GS champion Ted Ligety, who tops a list of nine U.S. men and women competing this weekend. Ligety won last year’s GS opener at Soelden by an eye-popping two-run total of nearly two and a half seconds.
“Soelden is an incredible place to start the season,” Ligety, 29, said in a release. “Fortunately, we’re always able to get some good training on the glacier leading up to the weekend and it’s a hill I feel comfortable on. I have a good chance to win again, but I guess we’ll see on Sunday.”
Vonn, a four-time overall World Cup champion from Vail, has been training this week at the U.S. Ski Team’s European Training facility in Soelden, but on Wednesday decided not to debut her surgically reconstructed knee in Saturday’s race.
“While I physically feel great, I have decided to not race this weekend and instead will focus on returning in Beaver Creek,” Vonn said Wednesday in a press release. “I am confident the extra month of training will ultimately put me in the best position to have a successful season.”
Beaver Creek hosts women’s World Cup racing for the first time on its new Talon’s course next to the men’s Birds of Prey course Nov. 29-Dec. 1 in the traditional Thanksgiving weekend slot for the Aspen Winternational women’s World Cup. The Aspen races will resume again next season.
Vonn on Monday posted a homemade video of her first crash since blowing out her right knee in a super-G at the World Championships in Austria last February.
“My skiing is improving every day, but I still crash once in a while,” Vonn wrote on Facebook. “Here’s a GoPro video I made of my first crash since I blew out my knee … and don’t worry, I got back up and kept training.”
Earlier this month Vonn made headlines by speculating she could return from her injury in time for Soelden. She trained on snow in Portillo, Chile, in September, and told reporters she might be back into race shape for the opener. If not Soelden, she said she would definitely be back for the women’s downhill Nov. 29 on Beaver Creek’s new Talon’s course.
However, Vonn added she’ll likely skip slalom events, as they would put too much strain on her right knee. Between Soelden’s opening GS on Saturday and the downhill Nov. 29 in Beaver Creek, there’s a women’s slalom scheduled for Levi, Finland on Nov. 16.
Vonn, 29, needs just three World Cup wins to tie retired Austrian legend Annemarie Moser-Proell for the most women’s victories (62) in World Cup history. Beaver Creek, which is testing its new course ahead of next season’s 2015 World Championships, will host three women’s events, including a super-G on Nov. 30 and a GS on Dec. 1.
In 2011, Vonn won a makeup super-G at Beaver Creek on the men’s Birds of Prey course and could tie Moser-Proell’s record on home snow Nov. 29-Dec. 1 at Beaver Creek.
If not, she could tie or surpass the all-time mark at Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada, the following weekend, where two downhills and a super-G are scheduled for Dec. 6-8. An astounding 14 of Vonn’s American record 59 World Cup wins have come at Lake Louise, and she won all three races there last year en route to six total wins before her injury.
The Vail surgeon who repaired her ruptured ACL and MCL, Dr. William Sterett of Vail-Summit Orthopedics, said he isn’t surprised by the speed of Vonn’s comeback.
“I think that’s been a big key to her success is how hard-working she is,” Sterett said. “She’s very, very disciplined and very regimented in all aspects, and I think that’s been a big key to her success is how driven she is and how hard-working she is.”
The defending Olympic downhill champion and Ski and Snowboard Club Vail product is scheduled to participate in the annual EpicMix Racing Pacesetting event at Vail on Nov. 8 and the Nature Valley First Tracks Team Naming event the same day at Copper Mountain.
Eagle-Vail’s Mikaela Shiffrin, a slalom standout with four regular-season World Cup wins and a world championship last season, is scheduled to race in Saturday’s GS in Soelden, as is 2006 Olympic GS gold medalist Julia Mancuso of Squaw Valley, Calif.
Universal Sports Network will provide coverage of the World Cup season both on air and at universalsports.com. Soelden’s TV coverage begins Saturday at 4 a.m. MT with a season preview show followed by live coverage from Soelden at 4:30 a.m. Live coverage continues on Sunday at 5:30 a.m. MT with the men’s GS.