German takes aim at Alpine history in Sochi race
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Maria Hoefl-Riesch can match Alpine skiing’s Olympic greats with a victory Wednesday in the women’s downhill.
The 29-year-old German, her confidence soaring after winning the opening super-combined event on Monday, is aiming for a record-equaling fourth career Olympic gold medal.
Only Janica Kostelic of Croatia and Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway, both retired, have won four Olympic titles in Alpine racing.
Hoefl-Riesch already belongs in a “special league,” according to the Germany team’s Alpine director, Wolfgang Maier.
Still, Hoefl-Riesch insists that writing chapters of ski history is not her motivation.
“I don’t think so much about statistics and rankings,” she said. “Of course, if this happens, it’s a great feeling.”
A statistic in Hoefl-Riesch’s favor: She has won three of the seven World Cup downhills this season, and no one else has won twice.
However, Julia Mancuso and three other racers were faster than Hoefl-Riesch in the downhill run of the super-combined.
“I was having some problems on the downhill already the last days of training,” said Hoefl-Riesch, who had a best finish of sixth in official practice sessions on the Rosa Khutor course. “And also (in the super-combined), it was much better, but still not really good.”
Indeed, Mancuso raced aggressively down the mountain, finishing more than one second faster in the Monday midday sunshine.
“Having that good run just means that I have more confidence going into the downhill,” said the American, whose national record of four career Olympic medals in Alpine skiing is one more than Hoefl-Riesch.
At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Mancuso won silver in downhill behind teammate Lindsey Vonn.
Hoefl-Riesch placed eighth that day on Whistler Mountain, 1.51 seconds slower than Mancuso, in what was her Olympic debut.
Another contender is 22-year-old Lara Gut. The Swiss skier arrived on the Olympic stage Monday and was second fastest behind Mancuso, albeit trailing by nearly a half-second.
She was in tears after missing a medal by skiing out in the slalom leg and, given the strong-willed nature Gut freely acknowledges, should be fired up Wednesday.
Gut and Swiss teammate Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden both have recent World Cup downhill victories, though Kaufmann-Abderhalden was shaken up in a training fall on Saturday.
A more serious crash on Sunday has removed medal contender Tina Weirather — Hoefl-Riesch’s closest challenger in the World Cup overall and downhill standings — from the race.
The Liechtenstein racer said Tuesday that she would not recover in time from bruising her right tibia.
“Heart broken that I cant compete tomorrow,” Weirather wrote on her social network accounts about 30 minutes after she was included in the draw for starting numbers. “I always felt responsible for my crashes and injuries, but this time I feel like it was just bad luck.”
Weirather, who missed the last Olympics because of injury, had hoped to better her mother, Hanni Wenzel, who took downhill silver at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics.
Elisabeth Goergl of Austria, another downhill winner this season, also has a family tradition of Olympic success. Her mother, Traudl Hecher, won back-to-back bronze medals in downhill at the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics and 1964 Innsbruck Games.
Goergl took the same medal herself four years ago in Vancouver.
After several days of warm temperatures, lower start numbers are likely to be favored before the snow becomes softer and slower.
Mancuso was drawn on Tuesday with start No. 12, Gut will wear No. 18 and Hoefl-Riesch is No. 20, the same as she had in super-combined.