(Women’s review here)
Men’s World Cup Review
Marcel Hirscher’s path towards becoming the first men to win four consecutive overall World Cup titles got significantly easier after the injury to long-time rival Aksel Lund Svindal just a few days before the beginning of the season, but it ended not being the piece of cake many thought it would be. Svindal, the vice champion in 2013 and 2014, was shelved through the whole season, only making a short appearance to race at the World Championships, but he kept in touch with his Norwegian colleagues and his advice was certainly valuable to Kjetil Jansrud, who at the age of 29 had, by far, the best season of his career.
Even if Hirscher and Jansrud fought head-to-head during the season only on limited occasions, since the Austrian mainly races the technical events and the Norwegian has turned into a speed specialist, both men maintained a close look at the other’s achievements through the season and the duel intensified as it came to a close.
On the season start, at Solden, Hirscher kicked off in style by winning for the first time at the inaugural event, and he was already well positioned after only two races with the 2nd place obtained at the Levi slalom. However, when Kjetil Jansrud got his first action on the new season at Lake Louise, he started a run of three consecutive WC wins and on the blink of an eye took the overall standings lead.
Hirscher then added a podium on the GS of Beaver Creek and two wins at Åre just before the tour moved into Italy. To two great results by Jansrud at Val Gardena, Hirscher answered right back with the triumph in the GS of Alta Badia, capping a terrific start of the season for both men, who combined to take eight of the first eleven WC events.
However, on the last DH of 2014, at Santa Caterina, Jansrud was only 17th and this outcome would kick-start a less impressive run for the Stavanger-native, who would add only one more top-3 finish until February and the start of the World Championships. Meanwhile, Hirscher won the slalom of Zagreb and the GS of Adelboden, was second in the super combined and the slalom of Kitzbuhel, and added another podium to cling back to the top of the standings and build an advantage he wouldn’t relinquish.
A tense Jansrud arrived in Vail for the World Championships as the main contender for the SG and DH titles, looking for the first medal of his career on this big stage, but his declining form showed up again, with a fourth place in the Super-G being followed by a disappointing 15th position on the DH. However, on the combined, Jansrud put up a brilliant downhill run to get his hopes high, only to be surprised by the furious comeback of Hirscher on the slalom, with the Austrian shaving a disadvantage of more than 3 seconds to claim gold in spectacular manner. Hirscher would then add a silver medal on the GS after failing to beat a Ted Ligety boosted by the home crowd, and seemed to be on his way to retain his slalom title until he failed to make a turn on the second run and was forced to retire.
A speed-heavy scheduled followed the immediate return to the WC but the 29-year old Norwegian would still need to wait to get back to the top of the podium. Matthias Mayer and Hannes Reichelt dominated the DH and SG events of Saalbach and Garmisch-Partenkirchen and almost unconsciously helped their watching countryman, who took advantage of his scarce opportunities to keep piling up the points.
The first weekend of March took the racers to Kvitfjell, Norway, and Jansrud was bound to take close to the maximum number of points available if he still dreamt of clinching the big crystal globe. The 7th place on the DH was short and the victory the next day on the Super-G still kept him more than 50 points out of the overall lead with a par of technical events at Kranjska Gora still to come. Hirscher added a 2nd and a 6th on a conservative effort and knew he only had to manage the gap on the last races of the year.
At Méribel, Jansrud looked determined to fight until the end and he did his job both on the downhill, which he won, and the Super-G (2nd), thus clinching the discipline’s globes on the process. Nonetheless, the race for the overall title was nearly over after Hirscher surprised with a fourth position at the Super-G and Jansrud, in a final act of despair, raced on the GS, performing better than expected (11th) but not good enough to keep his dream realistically alive. With the overall and GS titles already on the pocket, a beaming Marcel Hirscher ended the season by putting the cherry on the top after taking victory on the slalom event and collecting another globe, the third consecutive on the slowest alpine discipline.
At the end of the 37 races that comprised the 2014-2015 men’s calendar, 160 points separated the pair, with Hirscher boasting eight victories (fourteen podiums) and Jansrud responding with seven (plus four more top-3 finishes), while both split the other globes available. For the Norwegian, lifting the bright, translucent trophies was a debut, whereas Hirscher now has nine on his personal collection (4 overall, 2 GS, 3 SL).
As much as both men shined over the year, other athletes also had excellent seasons, so now it’s the time to recognize some of them.
Finishing third on the overall classification for the second consecutive year, France’s Alexis Pinturault managed to amass more than 1000 points and triumph twice, at the super combined of Kitzbuhel and the GS of Kranjska Gora. At the age of 23, Pinturault couldn’t beat Hirscher for the GS title, but he will take some solace on finishing the year in front of Ted Ligety, who has conquered the globe five-times since 2008. On the Word Championships, their fortunes reversed with the American winning the title, his third straight, and Pinturault repeating the third place achieved at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Nonetheless, the French is still young enough to evolve on other disciplines, namely the slalom and Super-G, which he finished in 10th, thus improving his chances of winning the overall title, while, at the age of 30, the Salt Lake City-native is running out of time if he still fancies raising the ultimate prize.
Germany’s Felix Neureuther equalled his best overall classification with the fourth place and, for the third year in a row, had to watch Marcel Hirscher came away with the elusive slalom trophy. The German had his best opportunity for glory to this date, leading the table throughout the year, but a mistake on the second run of the final event at Méribel cost him a few positions and he ended up 23 points short of his first crystal globe. In 2015, Neureuther won the races at Madonna di Campiglio and Wengen and added six more podiums, picking up a bronze medal on the World Championships after finishing behind France’s Jean-Baptiste Grange and compatriot Fritz Dopfer.
Dopfer was indeed one of the better surprises of the season, with the 27-year-old born in Austria placing in fifth at the final WC standings and adding a fourth position on the GS classification and a fifth on the slalom. Despite missing on his maiden World Cup win, Dopfer put up a really consistent season (16 top ten finishes in 18 races entered) under the inscription of the number 2, the position he occupied on four WC races and the aforementioned World Championships slalom.
From Germany back to their southwest neighbours, 34-year-old Hannes Reichelt was crowned the Super-G World Champion in February, but the campaign throughout the year at the discipline that earned him his only World Cup crystal globe (2008) was less effective, having to settle for fourth after besting his opponents only at Beaver Creek. However, he got to repeat the second position on the DH classification after pushing Kjetil Jansrud with a sequence of two wins and a podium after the World Championships.
Nine years younger, Matthias Mayer followed up a breakthrough 2014 season, when he became the DH Olympic Champion, with a 2015 of ups-and-downs. His best weekend of the year was at Saalbach, with a double success at the speed events, but those were his only wins of the year. Since he added just four more podium finishes, he also couldn’t make better than the lower podium position on the final Super-G classification.
Dominik Paris, from Italy, was one of the main contenders for every speed race during the season and his main accomplishment was the triumph at the Super-G of Kitzbuhel, the first on the discipline at WC events, and a win that validates his 2013 Downhill success on the same mythical slope of the Hahnenkamm Mountain. The 25-year-old ended up on the podium in five more occasions, and barely missed the chance of being a top-3 skier on both speed classifications due to an uninspired second part of the season.
Also delivering good results in 2015 were France’s Guillermo Fayed, who surprisingly clinched the third position on the final DH classification, Canadian Dustin Cook, the Super-G silver medallist at Vail and the first Canadian men to win an WC event on the discipline (Méribel), and Swiss Patrick Kung and Beat Feuz, respectively the gold and bronze medallists at the Downhill event of the World Championships.
Concerning the technical races, Norwegian prodigy Henrik Kristoffersen, fulfilling his third WC season, added slalom wins in Levi and Kranjska Gora to his résumé and ended the season on a high note with his first GS triumph attained at Méribel. In comparison with 2014, the 20-year-old dropped one position both on the overall and slalom classifications, but the confirmation of his spectacular talent opens prospects of putting up a fight for the slalom crystal globe in 2016.
Taking Kristoffersen’s spot on the slalom classification was one of the surprises of the season, Russian specialist Aleksandr Khoroshilov, who at the age of 31 got his maiden WC triumph at Schladming, and become the first male Russian skier to win a WC race since 1981. Just a few days later, at the World Championships, Khoroshilov was in great position to challenge for the title after a brilliant first run, but the pressure seemed to weight on him and he had to settle for eight. Nonetheless, the Russian was certainly happy at the end of the season with a performance that included top ten finishes on every race he participated in and two additional podiums at Åre and Méribel.
Other names, like France’s Thomas Fanara, similarly deserve some appreciation, but this article is already too heavy, so I’ll stop here and hope they forgive me.
The 2016 Alpine Ski World Cup starts on the end of October. As usual, Solden (Austria) will welcome the skiers back from a long summer of training on the mountain ranges of the Southern Hemisphere. See you then!
(Read the Women’s review here)