How this spring’s junior championships may predict the future of U.S. Ski Team success
It’s been hard to see the forest through the trees of slalom gates that Mikaela Shiffrin’s been bashing the past few years. Is the next generation of American ski racers ready to perform to her level — or at least approach it?
“Our superstars are doing great,” USSA CEO Tiger Shaw told The Boston Globe recently. “They’re doing what they do, they dominate the world. It’s absolutely stunning, and we’re thankful for them, and they’re incredible leaders on our team. At the same time, we don’t have enough people behind them. Our pipeline is not as strong as we’d like it to be.”
Shaw pointed to Sweden, France and Norway, who have multiple medalists behind a superstar. Not so much in the U.S. Living up to that “best in the world” motto means sustainability he added. “It’s a five- to eight-year project,” Shaw told the Globe. “It’s not something we can change overnight, but it’s something we are changing, and we’re really focusing on.”
That focus begins with a look back at this season’s finales — which begins, still, with Shiffrin. (She has one more year of junior eligibility left). She scored her third-straight World Cup slalom title and her second straight world slalom championship; and added six World Cup wins, bringing her total to 15. She is, without question, the greatest junior alpine ski racer in history.
Now, what about the pipeline?
At U.S. Nationals, Drew Duffy claimed the super G and Nina O’Brien the GS title, beating some bigger names who arrived at Sugarloaf perhaps a bit weary from World Cup Finals.
Other juniors who scored podiums at Nationals include Breezy Johnson (third in downhill), Rachael Desrochers (second in combined), AJ Ginnis (second in slalom), Paula Moltzan (second in GS and second in slalom). The combined events (super G and slalom) were both chock full of junior competitors. Desrochers, Alexandra Skorvan, Katy Harris, Haley Cutler, Lexi Calcagni and Erin Spence went two through seven. And on the guys’ side, it was Duffy, Sam Morse, Ryan Mooney, David Domonske, and Darwin Taylor in the three through seven slots.
At World Juniors, our only medals came in slalom with AJ Ginnis claiming a bronze among the men, and Paula Moltzan the gold for women. Those are good results. But in the Marc Holder Trophy results, the U.S. finished ninth behind Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, France, Germany and Canada. (We were ahead of Finland and Russia.) We scored no points for downhill, giant slalom, super G or combined. Trophy winner Norway missed points in women’s slalom, scoring in every other field.
There is definitely work to be done.
Moltzan, by the way, was also third in the final NorAm standings, although both Canadians in front of her are also officially juniors.
In the U18 Champs, national slalom champion Nina O’Brien was honing her confidence with a 1.86 margin in the slalom, but that was really the lone run-away win. There were other consistent finishes in more than one discipline that deserve applause.
Consistency at the U18 Champs
- Cecily Decker, NYSEF, 3rd (super G), 7th (GS) and 8th (downhill)
- Rachael Desrochers, Vail, 2nd (downhill), 4th (super G), 5th (GS)
- Christian Gallagher, GMVS, 1st (super G), 5th (downhill)
- Sky Kelsey, Aspen, 1st (downhill), 5th (slalom)
- Patrick Kenney, Burke, 1st (GS), 2nd (downhill)
- Heidi Livran, Vail, 2nd (super G), 7th (downhill)
- Madison Lord, Burke, 3rd (slalom), 9th (GS)
- Nina O’Brien, Burke, 1st (slalom), 3rd (GS)
- River Radamus, USSA Team Academy, 1st (slalom), 5th (GS), 6th (downhill)
- Paul Sheils, Burke, 4th (GS), 6th (super G)
- Logan Slattery, GMVS, 2nd (super G), 9th (slalom), 10th (GS)
- George Steffey, Stratton, 2nd (slalom), 6th (GS)
- Oliver Thompson, Burke, 3rd (GS), 5th (super G), 8th (slalom)
- Galena Wardle, USSA Team Academy, 2nd (GS), 6th (slalom)
- Isabella Wright, USSA Team Academy, 1st (SG), 3rd (downhill), 8th (slalom)
Peering farther down the pipeline, the U16 Nationals produced seven skiers within the same second of the men’s super G winner. Among women, however, Nellie Rose Talbot of Ski Club Vail got the win by a full second. On a 50-second course that’s a superstar performance.
In men’s slalom, Benjamin Ritchie of GMVS took a 1.48 second margin; that qualifies, too.
Consistency at the U16 Champs
- Hunter Brayton, WVBBTS, 3rd in GS and 3rd in slalom
- Alexa Coyle, Big Sky SEF, third in GS, fourth in SG and 5th in slalom
- Bridger Gile, Vail, 1st in GS and 2nd in SG
- Colby Lange, Vail, 1st in SG, 2nd GS
- Fredi Schneider, Burke, a pair of fourths in GS and SL
- Jennie Symons, Steamboat Springs, 2nd in GS and 3rd in SG
- Talbot added a fourth in slalom to her SG dominance
- Alix Wilkinson, Park City, 2nd SG and 3rd SL