Alpine skiing

Alpine skiing World Cup 2015 season review (I): The Austro-Slovenian Empire

1989 was undoubtedly a great year. The World Wide Web was invented, the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War would be finished as the calendar was about to turn. However, for Austria, the last year of the 80´s may be also remembered one day as the birth year of two of the biggest sporting idols in the history of the country.
Marcel Hirscher and Anna Fenninger were already the current gold standards of the country’s beloved skiing obsession and now share the glorious distinction as multiple World Cup overall Champions. Their 2015 titles were sealed on the last weekend at the French resort of Méribel, but until then both had to fight hard to see off the challenges provided by Norwegian speedster Kjetil Jansrud and Slovenian superstar Tina Maze.
This article will depict a five-month marathon to earn those shinning big crystal globes and pay respect to all those that dazzled on the snow to make up another unforgettable Alpine skiing season. As prerequisite, I’ll start with the ladies.
Women’s World Cup Review
Anna Fenninger had conquered the first World Cup (WC) title of his career at the end of 2014, but her worthiness was still at stake after a late season crash by Maria Hoefl-Riesch helped push her over the edge. Thus, with the German retired, Lindsay Vonn still nursing from two years marred by injuries, and Tina Maze coming off a lost season for his high standards, the Austrian had every reason to start the season on a roll and the inaugural sights did not disappoint. At the maiden race of the season, Fenninger shared with Mikaela Shiffrin the top place on the Giant Slalom (GS) podium at Solden and stamped a pole position for the long run. What nobody expected was the Salzburg-native inability to win again until the second month of 2015, and the rejuvenated Maze took the first slalom of the year, at Levi, a few weeks later to snag a lead she would hold through the months ahead.

Anna Fenninger and Mikaela Shiffrin shared the triumph at Solden

Only two stops in, the circus moved to the usual North American tour, and the racing days in Aspen (USA) and Lake Louise (CAN) would bring a familiar face back to the fold. Vonn, the four-time overall Champion, was back and all the rust she may have felt was gone on a pinch as she triumphed on the second Downhill (DH) event held on the Canadian resort, only a day after Maze beat Fenninger on the discipline’s first race of the year.
The third speed competition of the weekend, a Super G (SG), was snatched by Switzerland’s Lara Gut with Vonn and Maze coming right after, and the result prompted several observers to believe the American could challenge for the big globe. However, Vonn soon realized her form (and knee) wouldn’t hold an all-out challenge across multiple fronts and she smartly kept her focus on the speed races, a decision that would be proven absolutely right by the season’s end.
Back to Europe, Sweden’s Åre took over the technical festivities the lack of snow inhibited in Courchevel and, with 180 points (1st on the GS, 2nd on the Slalom (SL)) more on the pocket, Maze built an advantage of more than 250 points over the Austrian rival by mid-December, with Fenninger unable to get outside of the low-side of the top-ten classifications. Just before Christmas, although, the reigning Champion finished as the runner-up on the SG at Val D’Isére, and started a series of several 2nd places until the end of January that would bring her closer to the lead. Meanwhile, Maze was picking up precious points on slalom events during a part of the season dominated by the brilliance of Mikaela Shiffrin on the short skies, and the class of Vonn on the speed events, including her 63rd World Cup win at the SG of Cortina D’Ampezzo, beating the record of 62 WC wins set by Annemarie Moser-Proll.
The Americans seemed to be gaining steam ahead of the 2015 Vail/Beaver Creek World Championships, but the stars of the event on the women’s side were yet again the pair at the helm of the World Cup rankings.
Fenninger edged Maze for 0.03 seconds at the SG, the first event of the Championships, and this win would broke whatever was holding the Austrian back, even though two days later it was time for the 31-year-old to smile, defeating the rival for a mere 0.02 seconds on the DH. Maze would also take gold on the super combined, an event Fenninger finished in fourth, but the table was turned yet again on the GS, with a spectacular performance delivering the first World Championship title for the discipline’s World Cup title-holder.

The Austro-Slovenian domination extended to the World Championships in Vail

Shiffrin would save an otherwise pale American performance on the women’s side – Vonn only left with a bronze medal on the Super-G – by renewing the slalom title, but the three medals amassed by each side of the Fenninger-Maze rivalry would leave no doubts about the brightest smiles at the return of the Wold Cup.
With Fenninger 284 points out of the top spot, the season resumed in Maze’s background, at Maribor, and it was precisely where no one expected it that the tide changed dramatically. The home heroin crashed on the GS’ first run, straddling the gates for Fenninger’s win, and the next day Maze failed to finish the slalom also, leaving the weekend full of doubts while his rival got a serious moral boost that grew even more with wins at the GS and combined event of Bansko.
Maze would reduce the losses in the Bulgarian resort with two second place finishes, and managed to keep the distance on the following stop, Germany’s Garmish-Partenkirchen, but the return to Åre brought another success to Fenninger on the GS and a change in the leader of the pack after Maze ended back in 20th.

Lindsey Vonn clinched both speed titles at Méribel

Heading into the season finale at Méribel, Fenninger was still fighting for the discipline’s globes in the Downhill and Super-G, trailing Lindsay Vonn in both, but the American made everything to avoid influence on the overall dispute after claiming victory in both events and, by virtue, both classifications. Fenninger was second on the SG and only eight on the DH, while Maze managed a third and a fifth, setting the stage to reclaim the lead by 18 points after the slalom, which she ended up in fourth.
The title was going to be decided on the last race of the season, with the Austrian trying to add the GS globe also, and the pressure was immense on both women. Leading after the first run, Fenninger was on the starting line when his rival failed to beat fellow Austrian Eva-Maria Brem on the second run and fought the nerves to secure his advantage and celebrate after crossing the finish line.At the end, just 22 points separated Maze from Fenninger’s 1553, with the 25-year-old conquering the big crystal globe for the second time on one of the tightest battles on World Cup history.
Breaking down the season of both women, a closer look at the numbers reveals that the Austrian had more podiums (15 to 13) and wins (6 to Maze’s 3), an essential factor in the contest since Fenninger is essentially a three disciplines skier (DH, SG, GS) while the Slovenian also races de slalom. The Overall Champion defeated the rival on the classification of all the three shared disciplines, ending behind Vonn on the downhill and Super-G, with Maze coming up third on both, and claiming the GS title with 542 points, more than doubling the 266 collected by Maze on his historically most successful event. The cushion added on the head-to-head competitions allowed Fenninger to rush to victory despite the third place (439 points) on the slalom classification achieved by Maze.

After a gruelling duel, Fenninger toppled Maze

Finishing on the final podium position, with 1087 points, Lindsey Vonn not only surpassed the record for most World Cup wins, set now at 67, but also added two more small globes to his impressive collection, raising the total to 19 (4 OV, 7 DH, 5 SG, 3 C), a female record. Furthermore, she equalled Annemarie Moser-Proll with the most DH titles of all-time (7) and German Katja Seizing in total Super-G titles (5), while her 113 podiums are tied with Moser-Proll for most of all-time on the women’s side. The 30-year-old American raced mostly on the speed events in 2015, winning a season-best 8 races, but has already promised to participate on the GS next season and challenge for her fifth overall title.
Meanwhile, her compatriot Mikaela Shiffrin ended the season in fourth on the overall classification after threatening to step in the middle of the fray during the first half of the season. The 20-year-old Vail-native added his third consecutive slalom crystal globe and renewed her World Championship title, but didn’t stop there, continuing to make strides towards the goal of becoming a real contender for the overall title by improving her performance on the GS. In fact, Shiffrin was third on the Kuhtai GS to supplement her maiden win in the discipline at Solden, and those results allowed her to step in the final podium position at Méribel on the season’s end. Her goal in 2016 is to experience the first Super-G events.

Mikaela Shiffrin won the third consecutive slalom WC title

After the two Americans, who collected over 1000 points, the difference for the rest of the pack was clear, as Nicole Hosp, the 2007 World Cup overall winner, closed the top 5 with 684 points. The 31-year-old Austrian celebrated a World Cup triumph for the first time since 2008, on the slalom event of Aspen, and her best memory from the year was also attained on American soil, with Hosp taking silver at the super combined race of the World Championships.
Two other Austrian veterans, 28-year-old technical specialist Kathrin Zettel and speedster Elizabeth Goergl came in 7th and 8th, respectively, on the overall classification, while Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter was 6th after challenging Mikaela Shiffrin’s slalom reign until the last race. The 29-year-old skier collected five WC podium finishes on the year, including the top position at Flachau plus the silver medal in the event at the World Championships, but came out disappointed for failing yet again to breakthrough. With Shiffrin just getting better, her time may never arrive.

Lara Gut didn’t have a lot to celebrate in 2015

Rapping up the top 10 were two skiers who started the year with big expectations but never managed to stay consistent. For Lara Gut, the problem isn’t new and the uber-talented Swiss showed her frustration several times over the year as the bad results kept piling up. After conquering seven races in 2014, the jewel of the Italian-speaking region of Ticino took a step backwards in 2015 by managing just two wins, at Lake Louise (SG) and St. Moritz (DH), and no other podium finishes. Gut dropped six spots from the third place on the overall classification obtained in 2014 and never stood a chance of retaining the Super-G title claimed on the previous season, although the year was brightened a little bit by the bronze medal picked up at the World Championships’ DH race.
On the other hand, Tina Weirather, recovered from the leg injury that cut short a promising 2014 season, battled hard to regain his best form all year and the results took some time to surface. Her first podium finish on the season came in Lake Louise, at the beginning of December, and she added three more during the year, culminating on a well-deserved triumph on the DH of Garmish-Partenkirchen. If she can rack up a good summer of training, the native of the Liechtenstein is poised to turn into a dark-horse on the list of contenders for the overall title in 2016.
If the top 10 in the overall classification had no surprises, the dispute of the disciplines globes’ saw some young guns emerge out of the shadow. Austrian Eva-Maria Brem fought till the very last minute with compatriot Anna Fenninger for the GS crystal globe and at the age of 26 figures to be a contender for the discipline for years to come. The skier born on the Tyrol region won a single event, in Aspen, but added four more podiums and a fourth place to end all seven GS races on the top 10. However, she flopped badly at the World Championships, quickly missing a gate on the first run of the competition.

Sarah Hector (center) beat Fenninger and Shiffrin on the GS of Kuhtai

Two spots behind Brem on the GS classification placed Sarah Hector, a young skier from Sweden who turned some heads after a runner up finish in Åre on December 12th, and later confirmed her qualities with the win at the Kuhtai in Tirol event. The 22-year-old Sandvike native would end the season with a 4th place at the final GS in Méribel, and her improvement will be closely watched in 2015-16 after she outshined more regarded compatriots like Jessica Lindell-Vikarby and Maria Pietilae-Holmner.
Finally, some words for the new Austrian prospect on the speed events, 22-year-old Cornelia Huetter, who almost medalled at the Super-G on the World Championships and picked up seven other top ten finishes over the year, a total that would render a top 5 classification on the final discipline standings.
More ladies deserved the spotlight, but this tale it’s already too long, so let’s move on to the men

(see next post)

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European Tour of Sports – Sweden

The Basics


Population: 9.7 M
Area: 450 290 km2
Capital: Stockholm
Summer Olympic Medals: 483 (143 G-164 S-176 B)
Winter Olympic Medals: 144 (50 G-40 S-54 B)
Popular sports
“Välkommen till Sverige”, a land of less than ten million people that seats on the top ten in medals conquered at both the Summer and Winter Olympics, a country that sees half of its population engaged in sports clubs, and in which one in every five persons actively participates in sports activities.
I’m repeating myself over every article of this series, but you wouldn’t be surprised to know that football is right at the top of the Swede’s preferences, with the national team being a regular participant in the biggest international competitions after qualifying a total of 16 times for the World Cup and the European Championships. Although the country’s best results have come on home soil, mainly the second position at the 1958 World Cup, lost at the Räsunda Stadium against Pele’s Brazil, and the semi-final appearance at the Euro 1992, the Swedish national team is always regarded as a team to watch, as the third place finishes at the 1950 and 1994 World Cup reflect the amount of talent the Swedes have been able to produce over the years. Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordhal and Nils Liedholm, members of the team that won Gold at the 1948 Olympics, were probably the first big stars of the sport in the country, enjoying a formidable partnership over the 50’s for AC Milan and the “Blågult” (ENG: The Blue-Yellow), but later names like goaltender Thomas Ravelli and forwards Tomas Brolin and Henrik Larsson also left their mark on European football.

Tomas Brolin celebrates a goal for Sweden on the Euro 92

At the club level, despite today’s obscurity on the European scale, the fans of IFK Göteborg had the chance to celebrate two UEFA Cup wins on the 80’s, while Mälmo FF lost a European Cup final in 1979. A look over Swedish football wouldn’t be complete without a reference to the most successful Swedish coach of all-time, Mr. Sven-Göran Eriksson, who collected 17 trophies during managing stints in 9 different countries, including league-and-cup doubles for IFK Göteborg, a team that he coached to the 1982 UEFA Cup success, SL Benfica and SS Lazio.
On the women’s side, Sweden is definitely one of the continent’s main rulers, with the national team succeeding at the first edition of the European Championships, in 1984, and the best result at the World Cup happening in 2003, a loss in the final against hosts USA. However, over the last few years, they have successively fallen just short of glory, beaten on the semi or quarter-final stages of every major competition since 2007. The 1-0 loss to Germany in the semi-final of the 2013 European Championships the country organized is a perfect example of that. Meanwhile, Sweden’s Dammallsvenskan is hailed as one of the top domestic leagues in the World, with Umeå IK vaunting 2 Women’s Champions League trophies and three runner-up finishes.

Peter Forsberg on the victory lap after the Tre Kronor defeated Finland at the 2006 Turim Olympics Final

Sharing the spotlight with football on the leading sports coverage in Sweden is ice hockey, a sport where the national team, nicknamed “Tre Kronor” (ENG: Three Crowns), currently leads the World Rankings and boasts an impressive résumé. Nine World Championships, the most recent in 2013, and nine Olympic medals, including two golds, in 1994 and 2006, fill the nation’s trophy cabinet, but the Swede’s should also be proud of the amount of talent they have nurtured. Nicklas Lidström, Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin, Börge Salming, Håkan Loob and Mats Näslund were all players that achieved great success both at home and at the NHL level, and their level of play ranks them among the best of all-time. Furthermore, the Swedish Hockey League is considered the third best in the world and even the second tier competition, the HockeyAllsvenskan, welcomes excellent attendances.
Handball is other team sport that receives plenty of attention in the country, as the Swedes can take pride on the four gold medals at the European Championships, a record, the four titles and eleven podium finishes at the World Championships, and the four silver medals gathered at the Olympic Games. The most successful period of the Swedish handball team came between 1996 and 2002, when the country reached eight consecutive major finals (Euro, World, Olympic) due to the “Bengan Boys”, that, coached by Bengt Johansson, thoroughly dominated the sport fielding star players like Staffan Olson, Magnus Wislander and Stefan Lövgren. However, since 2003, the squad has struggled to reach the same heights, with Sweden failing to get to podium positions, except for a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics, and occasionally not qualifying at all.
Niche team sports such as curling, bandy (a mixture of ice hockey, field hockey and football played outdoors) and floorball are also quite popular in Sweden while the national basketball team sometimes appears at the European Championships. Still, the sport has never really take off in the country even with the recent presence of two players in the NBA (Jonas Jerebko, Jeffery Taylor).

Ingemar Stenmark, the men’s Alpine Skiing World Cup record-holder with 86 wins

With an abundance of snow, Sweden as always produced great athletes in winter sports, specially skiing events. In the alpine disciplines, names like Ingemar Stenmark, the best GS and slalom racer of all-time, Pernille Wiberg and Anja Pärsson are living legends, whereas Sixten Jernberg and Gunde Svan do the same for cross-country skiing, a sport where the country has amassed 74 Olympic medals, second only to Norway. And although ski jumping has never been the most triumphant discipline for the Swedes, another winter speciality, the biathlon, had his moments over time, particularly Magdalena Forsberg’s impressive run on the turn of the century, with six consecutive World Cup titles amassed between 1997 and 2002, and six golds won in World Championships.
With a total of 81 medals collected over the years on Olympic games, Athletics has a long tradition on the country, ranging from Ernst Fast’s third place on the men’s marathon of the 1900 Paris Olympics (Sweden’s first Olympic medal) to the triple Gold success of Athens more than one hundred years later. Actually, in that 2004 edition, Christian Olson took the spoils in the triple jump and Stefan Holm confirmed the Swedish tradition on the high jump, following the footsteps of names like Patrick Sjöberg and Kajsa Bergqvist. For the ladies, the gilt light shone on Carolina Klüft, the athlete that dominated the women’s heptathlon (and pentathlon) during the first decade of the new century, conquering an unmatched three consecutive world titles and posting the second highest point total of all-time (7032 points).

Björn Borg with one of the five consecutive Wimbledon trophies he captured

From the tracks to the courts, Swedish excellence provided three former tennis number one’s, Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg, and Björn Borg, with the latter, a eleven-time Grand Slam Champion and a five-times ATP Player of the year, standing as one of the most recognizable figures in the history of the sport and probably the most popular Swedish sportsman of all-time. And we could go on, with other worldwide sports where Swedes have excelled internationally including swimming (Therese Alshammar, Emma Ingelström), golf (Hall-of-Famer Annika Sörenstam), sailing, table tennis (World and Olympic Champion Jan-Ove Waldner), canoeing (eight-times Olympic Champion Gert Fredriksson), speed skating (triple Olympic gold medallist Tomas Gustafson), horse riding and cycling (Gösta Pettersson, 1971 Giro Winner).
Yet, none of those sports can claim the lead in number of Olympic medals brought to the country, since that achievement belongs to….wrestling, with 84, the last two added at the London Olympics.
Star Athletes
Zlatan Ibrahimović (Football)
From just another tall kid of Bosnian and Croatian origins to the top of the list of most identifiable Swedes, the life of the Mälmo-born striker is worthy of a best-seller book. Growing up on a city brimming with foreign-background inhabitants, Zlatan learned to stand up by himself since his early years as a black belt in taekwondo and those lessons stayed with him over a brilliant if controversial football career. Undeniably, a stunning total of 11 national titles in 13 seasons playing for six of the biggest clubs in Europe (well, 5 plus PSG) and four top scorer awards attest the proficiency of one of the best players of his generation and an unique forward with skills and swiftness rare for a 1,95m man. Moreover, in Sweden, Ibrahimović is revered for his exploits with a national team he captains today after more than 100 games, 51 goals and appearances in two World Cups (2002, 20006) and three European Championships (2004, 2008, 2012).
Always a distinctive figure, the 33-year-old, considered nine times the best Swedish footballer of the year, was recently named the second-best sportsperson of all-time in the country and famously retorted that he should have occupied the first five positions, perfectly displaying the character and personality that has motivated several confrontations with colleagues, coaches and adversaries over the years. When his career ends, his charismatic behaviour will define his legacy in the sport as much as the fantastic executions he’s capable on the pitch (), but Zlatan wouldn’t like it any other way.

An acrobatic move by Zlatan Ibrahimović that resulted on a stunning goal against England in 2013

Henrik Lundqvist (Ice Hockey)
The man many in New York call “King Henrik” was born on a city, Åre, primarily renowned for the alpine skiing facilities. However, Henrik and his twin brother, Joel, always preferred hockey, and it wasn’t long until they got to play for their favourite team, Göteborg-based Frölunda HC. Seven years and two league titles later (2003, 2005), their paths eventually separated and, with nothing else to prove at home, the goaltender moved on to face the best game after game.
Representing the New York Rangers since 2005, after the team selected him at the 2000 NHL draft, Henrik Lundqvist has been a mainstay for the honoured franchise since his rookie season and is undoubtedly one of the best in the world on his position, boasting a Vezina Trophy (awarded to the best NHL goalie in 2012) and four other nominations. To this day, he’s still pursuing the chance to return the Stanley Cup to the Big Apple and he keeps improving his legacy and club-records as the best goalkeeper in the “blueshirts” history.
The 32-year-old has also consistently embodied his country’s efforts on the world scale since the youth levels, with his biggest accomplishment coming at the 2006 Torino Olympics where he backstopped the Swedes to the gold medal. Since the retirement of legendary defenseman Nicklas Lidström, in 2012, Lundqvist inherited the role of Sweden’s prominent ice hockey player and he led his country to a silver medal on the 2014 Olympic tournament. His performances in Sochi further increased his popularity amongst the compatriots, but he has always been a fan favourite everywhere by way of his various community and charity enterprises coupled with a calm and friendly presence on and off the ice.
Charlotte Kalla (cross-country skiing)

Charlotte Kalla during a race at the Sochi Olympic Games

Sweden’s role on cross-country’s history has always been that of party crashers, the nation that craves to surprise the successful neighbours that have historically dominated the sport. Charlotte Kalla personifies that spirit perfectly and the native of Tärendö, a small village on the far north of Sweden, has thereby managed to build an impressive career during the era of two legends of the sport, Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk and Norway’s Marit Bjørgen, the most medalled female athlete in Winter Olympics’ history. The 27-year-old skier has almost 30 World Cup podiums since his debut in 2006 and a total of 5 World Championships medals, all of them gathered in team events. In fact, along with teammates Ida Ingemarsdotter, Emma Wikén and Anna Hagg, Kalla broke a fifty-four year gold medal drought for Sweden on the Women’s 4 x 5km relay event, with the team taking top honours on the competition of the 2014 Olympics through a performance that won the prize for most significant Swedish sports achievement of the year.
However, collective success aside, it was Kalla’s individual excellence that fuelled the most important results of her career, namely the gold medal in the 10km freestyle race of the 2010 Olympics, and the silver medals in the 15 km skiathlon and 10km classic races of the 2014 Sochi Games. The overall triumph at the 2007-2008 edition of the Tour de Ski, on her debut edition, is another important mark on Kalla’s résumé and, with the main rivals nearing retirement, her best years may still ahead.
Others: Lotta Schelin (Women’s Football), Jonas Jerebko (Basketball), Henrik Zetterberg (Ice Hockey), Frida Hansdotter (Alpine Skiing), Sarah Sjöström (Swimming) Johan Olsson, Marcus Hellner (cross-country skiing), Fredrik Lööf (Sailing), Lisa Nordén (Triathlon), Henrik Stenson (Golf)
Venues
Since the Stockholm Olympic Games, held in 1912, Sweden’s track record hosting top international events (European and World Championships) is truly remarkable, with the wealth spread across dozens of disciplines. Without surprise, this organizational expertise has been translated into the development of a sheer amount of modern, state-of-the-art sporting facilities that enable the populations an easy and comfortable access to high-level sport competitions year-round and country-wide.

The Ullevi during the opening ceremony of the Gothia Cup

To start, obvious emphasis on the Friends Arena, located on the municipality of Solna (Stockholm’s urban region). The new national stadium, which substituted the nearby Räsunda, host of the 1958 World Cup final, can hold up to 50,000 and has a retractable roof that can turn it into the biggest indoor venue in the Nordic countries. Opened in 2012, the arena, beyond the matches of the national football team, sees the home games of AIK, concerts and has welcomed the final of the 2013 UEFA Women’s European Championship.
The second biggest stadium in the country is the 43,000-seats Ullevi, in Gothenburg, built for the 1958 World Cup and a place that has hosted multiple football European finals as well as the European and World Athletic Championships. Nonetheless, the women’s national team and the city’s football clubs play at the 2009’ Gamla Ullevi, which was raised on the grounds of the old facility by the same name, and has 15,000 seats. Recent constructions are also the Tele2 Arena (2013), in Stockholm, the home of Djurgårdens IF and Hammarby IF with a capacity for 33,000, and the Swedbandk Stadium (2009), in Mälmo, a facility that holds 24,000.
In terms of (truly) indoor venues, the most important is the unmistakable Stockholm Globe Arena, the largest hemispherical building in the World, and a facility with up to 13,500 seats for ice hockey games. Several World Championships and other international ice hockey games have taken place at the Globe since 1989, but the Handball, Volleyball and Basketball European Championships were also held there. However, the capital’s ice hockey teams (Djurgårdens IF and AIK) usually play their home games at the adjacent Hovet, a 9,000 capacity arena. The 2008-opened Mälmo Arena comes in second-place by capacity (15,000 seats) in the country and is the home of the Mälmo Redhawks, the city’s ice hockey team.

The Stockholm Globe Arena iluminated at night

The Scandinavium, in Gothenburg, completes the podium, as the 14,000 seats venue, opened in 1972, has received over the years swimming, ice skating and athletics events, for example, while turning into the place Frölunda HC calls home. Moreover, the country’s ice hockey significance defines the existence of nine other indoor venues with over 7,000 seats, almost all built during the 2000’s. Thus, towns like Linköping, Lund, Norrköping, Kalmar, Halmstad, Helsingborg, Gävle and Karlstad commonly share the burden of hosting international events with Sweden’s three main city centres.
In respect to winter sports, the main hubs are Falun, Östersund and Åre, all situated in central Sweden. The first two cities regularly welcome World Cup events of the Nordic ski sports (cross-country, ski jumping, nordic vombined) and biathlon, respectively, and have organized the discipline’s World Championships several times over the years, while Åre takes part in the Alpine Skiing World Cup frequently.
Yearly Events
There’s no shortage of sporting events staged yearly on Sweden. Elite sport leagues like football’s Allsvenskan, running from late March to the beginning of November, and hockey’s SEL (season from September to April) provide excitement all over the country, from Mälmo, in the southeast coast, to Lulea, almost on the Arctic Circle, but there’s also the chance to attend a game of bandy (October-March) or handball (September-May). Others events to note are:
Vikingarännet, traditional long-distance ice skating race
Uppsala-Stockholm, January

The Vikingarännet, a 80 km ice skating race on the frozen Lake Mälaren linking Uppsala and Stockholm

Rally Sweden, World Rally Championships
Värmland region, February
World Cup event, Cross-Country skiing
Östersund, February
Vasaloppet, traditional long- distance (90km) cross-country ski race
Dalarna, March
World Cup event, Alpine Skiing
Åre, March
Scandinavian Masters, Golf
Mälmo, June
Stockholm Marathon, Athletics
Stockholm, June

A view of the tennis Swedish Open’s main court, in Båstad

Speedway Grand Prix of Sweden, motorcycle speedway
Målilla (Kalmar), June
Gothia Cup, youth football
Gothenburg, July
Swedish Open, Tennis
Båstad, July
Speedway Grand Prix of Scandinavia, motorcycle speedway
Solna (Friends Arena), September

Alpine Skiing World Cup Preview

The 2014-2015 season of the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup starts this week in Soelden, Austria, with the giant slalom races at the slopes of the Rettenbach Glacier. For almost five months, the best alpine skiers in the world will compete for the right to lift the crystal globes, awarded to the winners of the overall classification and to the best in each of the five disciplines. The World Cup finals are scheduled for the weekend of March 22nd, in the French resort of Méribel, but before that the world’s best will compete on the World Championships, held in Vail/Beaver Creek, USA, from the 2nd to the 15th of February.

In downhill events, skiers can even “fly”

As an introduction, it is important to explain that the four basic alpine skiing disciplines are the downhill, super-G, giant slalom and slalom. The downhill is the fastest one, with the competitors sometimes achieving speeds of over 150 km/h, and, thus, it is also the riskier. The super-G is also a speed race, but the velocity is not as high as in the downhill, as the racers have to make more turns, and start their runs from a lower altitude. The giant slalom and the slalom are considered technical disciplines, with the skiers having to pass between a set of poles, called a gate, using quick and short turns. The speed on a giant slalom race can average around 40km/h, with the slalom competitions being run at an even slower pace. There is also a fifth event, the super combined, which usually includes a shorter downhill (or a super G) race and a slalom. The winners of each event are the skiers who cross the finish line in the fastest time, with the technical disciplines including two runs per competitor while the speed events only include one descent per racer.

Now, time to meet the favourites. As usual, ladies first.

A generational change

The female tour begins the new season without a clear favourite, with the overall World Cup title being taken by four different athletes in the last four years. The reigning champion is the Austrian Anna Fenninger, who took the title from the hands of Maria Hoefl-Riesch after the German crashed in the final downhill of the season, in Lenzerheide.

Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Anna Fenninger, a duel that won’t be repeated in 2015

At the age of 25, Fenninger become the first Austrian woman to win the World Cup since 2007, when Nicole Hosp succeded, and seems to have the tools to repeat the feat. A complete skier, capable of accumulating points in downhill, super-G and giant slalom races, the Salzburg native boosted her confidence after leaving the 2014 Olympic Games with two medals, a gold in the super G and a silver in the giant slalom, and finished the season on a high note, taking the victory in the last three giant slaloms of the season to claim the discipline title along with the overall classification.

Meanwhile, Hoefl-Riesch, the 2011 World Cup Champion, announced her retirement at the end of last season, and won’t revive the long-time battles with her friend and rival Lindsey Vonn, another veteran of the circuit who, at the age of 30, will be back after recovering from a knee injury suffered in the downhill race of Val d’Isère last December. The American, a four-time World Cup champion (2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012) should make his first appearance of the year at Lake Louise, and expects to add some victories to her World Cup total of 59, just three shy of the record of 62 set by Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell.

The 2013 champion, the Slovenian Tina Maze, also returns for what could be his final season on the tour. The 31-year-old enjoyed a record-breaking season in 2012-13, setting the highest point total in World Cup history, with 2414 points, but failed to be at his best in 2014, winning his first event in January, and only after going through a coaching change. With four Olympic medals on her résumé, including two Golds from the Sochi Games, the Slovenian’s motivation is being questioned and she has already announced her plans to take a season off in 2015-16. However, Maze is, along with Vonn, the only active skier to have won a World Cup event in all five disciplines, and, as such, her all-around ability makes her a treat in every race and a contender for the overall classification.

Lara Gut and Tina Maze, skiers on different phases of their careers

So, with the veterans on the downswing, a new generation seems ready to take the lead for real. Beyond Fenninger, all eyes will be on the Swiss Lara Gut, who started and finished last season on great shape but failed to keep the consistency throughout the year. Despite this, the 23-year-old managed to win the super-G title and a total of seven World Tour events, the most among all skiers, finishing in third on the overall classification. Tina Weirather, a 25-year-old from tiny Liechtenstein, was another strong competitor for the overall title last season, with her final classification, the fifth, failing to reflect the performance of a skier who was in second place until a fall during the pre-race trainings for the downhill event in Sochi led to the end of her season.

Mikael Shiffrin, already a super star at the age of 19

The wildcard in the competition for the big crystal globe is the American prodigy Mikaela Shiffrin. The 19-year-old already dominates with ease the slalom events, holding the last two World Cup titles on the discipline, along with the Olympic and World Championship titles, but still has to improve her speed skills to challenge for the overall crown. With that in mind, Shiffrin’s progresses on the giant slalom are noticeable and the expectations are for her to start racing the super-G too, making the American an even bigger candidate for the overall title, following the sixth placement of 2014. Moreover, the 2015 World Championships will be held in Shiffrin’s hometown, something will certainly increase her motivation.

Tessa Worley, the giant slalom World Champion, is back after a crash in Courchevel, on December 2013, ended her season, while Viktoria Rebensburg is, after Riesch’s retirement, Germany’s best bet for a good place on the overall classification. Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter, Maria Pietilla-Holmner and Jessica Lindell-Vikarby usually excel in the technical races, while the end of Marlies Schild’s career, the most successful in World Cup slalom history, leaves her sister, Bernardette Schild, and Kathrin Zettel as the best Austrians in the discipline.

Hirscher and the rest

On the men’s side, Marcel Hirscher won his third World Cup title in 2014, and, at the age of 25, is looking towards matching Marc Girardelli’s record of five championships, while hoping to accumulate more discipline titles to join the two already won in the slalom, and the 2011-12 triumph in the giant slalom. However, the 2013-14 season of the Austrian had his disappointing moments too, with Hirscher leaving the Sochi Olympics with a single silver medal, the first of his career.

Aksel Lund Svindal and Marcel Hirscher, a new battle will have to wait.

Aksel Lund Svindal, Hirscher’s biggest rival and the runner-up in the last two seasons, looked ready to challenge again for his third World Cup title, but teared his Achilles tendon last week during a friendly football match in Innsbruck, and will miss most of the season. The 31-year-old Norwegian is the current super-G and downhill champion and his presence will be missed, leaving Hirscher as the overwhelming favourite to collect the crystal globe and reach an unparalleled men’s fourth consecutive title.

Henrik Kristoffersen, the Norwegian phenomenom

Without Svindal, Ted Ligety, the 30-year-old American, looks eager to try to challenge for the overall title. A five-time giant slalom World Cup champion and the current super-G World Champion, Ligety needs to be more consistent in the slalom and super-G events if he hopes to improve on last year’s 4th overall place. Alexis Pinturault, of France, third overall last year and bronze medallist in the giant slalom of the 2014 Winter Games, also needs to step up his performance, since, like Hirscher, the 23-year-old excels in the technical disciplines. Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud, the Super-G Olympic champion, was sixth in the overall classification in 2013 and has the responsibility to carry his country’s hopes while Svindal is out, with 20-year-old phenomenon Henrik Kristoffersen, third on the Olympic slalom, slotted as a nice backup plan.

Outside of the overall contenders, emphasis on the 37 year-old Bode Miller, the last American to win the overall title, in 2007-08, and a man with 33 World Cup victories to his name. Probably on his last season in the circuit, Miller expects to challenge for the win on the historical downhill race of Hahnenkamm, Kitzbuhel, whilst he helps to develop the 26-year-old Travis Ganong, the new speed promise of American skiing. Another talent to watch is Austrian Matthias Mayer, the downhill Olympic Champion, who, at the age of 24, looked ready to take the discipline title from Svindal. However, Mayer recently suffered a knee injury that will keep him out until the races at the Canadian resort of Lake Louise.

Bode Miller, last season for a ski legend

Felix Neureuther, of Germany, lost the slalom title to Hirscher in the last race of the season and is always a treat in the technical competitions, with the same being true for Austrian slalom specialist Mario Matt, the man who broke Hirscher’s heart in Sochi, taking the Olympic title in the slalom on the last second. In the speed events, look also for Hannes Reichelt, of Austria, a former super-G World Cup champion, and Erik Guay, a Canadian skier who is a former winner of the World Cup in the disciplines of downhill and super-G.

European Tour of Sports: Austria

The basics

Population: 8.5 M

Area: 83.8 km2

Capital: Vienna

Summer Olympic Medals: 86 (18G-33S-35B)

Winter Olympic Medals: 218 (59G-78S-81B)

Popular sports

There’s no other country in the world that loves alpine skiing as much as Austria and without surprise they’re the most successful ones in the history of the sport. More than half of those 218 medals won at the Winter Olympics were earned by the Austrian alpine skiers, and some of biggest names to ever grace the slopes, like Hermann Maier, Annemarie Moser-Proll and Toni Sailer, were born there. Moreover, in the summer, Austrians dedicate themselves to mountaineering, with the best Austrian mountain climbers being pioneers in conquering most of the world’s biggest peaks. The diverse mountains and slopes are also used for ski jumping, with Austria leading the historical World Cup tables for both individual and team medals.

The most important team sport is football, as the National Team finished in 3rd place at the 1934 World Cup and in 4th place 20 years later, but the Austrians have failed to make a stand in the last few decades, even when the country co-organized (with Switzerland) the 2008 UEFA European Championship. No Austrian club has ever won a European competition, with SK Rapid Vienna being the most supported and successful club in the country and Red Bull Salzburg emerging as the leading power in Austrian football during the last few years. In motor sports, the much expected return of the Formula One to Austria occurred in 2014, a deserved gift for country that has celebrated the titles of two former world champions in the discipline (Niki Lauda and Jochen Rindt). Table tennis, swimming, luge, and tennis have also delivered important successes in the past, while beach volleyball, despite the lack of sea beaches, is quite popular.

Star Athletes

Gregor Schlierenzauer (Ski Jumping)

Gregor Schlierenzauer

Despite being only 24 years old, Schlierenzauer is already one of most decorated ski jumpers of all time. After debuting in the World Cup at the precocious age of 16, “Schlieri” didn’t take a long time to make a splash, finishing 2nd in the prestigious Four Hills Tournament of 2006-2007 and 4th in the overall World Cup classification in the same season. Two years later, the Innsbruck native won his first World Cup title with an impressive total of 11 wins on the season and set a new overall points record, with 2083, repeating the overall World Cup success in 2012-13. His current total of 52 victories in World Cup events is an all-time record and he also owns several medals in World Championships, both in individual and team competitions. Two individual bronze medals from the 2010 Olympic Games, and the gold and silver medals from the team competitions at the Vancouver and Sochi Olympics, respectively, also figure in his extensive list of accomplishments

Anna Fenninger (Alpine Skiing)

This spot probably should have belonged to Marcel Hirscher, the three-time Overall World Cup winner, but since I get to play favourites here, I’ll go with the golden girl from Salzburg. Anna Fenninger participated in her first World Cup events at the age of 17, in 2006, evolving in all five alpine disciplines, but her breakthrough moments came only five years later. A surprising win in the super combined event at the 2011 World Champions held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen preceded her first World Cup win, on the 2011-2012 giant slalom of Linz, and she kept progressing in the next years, finishing third in the overall World Cup classification of the 2012-13 season. Then, during the 2013-2014 season, the 25-year old achieved Olympic success, capturing the gold medal in the super-G and the silver medal in the giant slalom at the Sochi Games, before clinching her first big Crystal Globe as Overall World Cup Champion, a title complemented with the small globe of the giant slalom discipline.

Anna Fenninger and a 2014 to remember

Thomas Vanek (ice hockey)

The best Austrian ice hockey player of all time was born in 1984, inside a family who emigrated from the Czechoslovakia, and moved to the United States as a 14-year-old to pursue his dream of becoming a professional player. Later, after winning the NCAA National championship as a member of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, Vanek was the 5th player selected in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, becoming the highest drafted Austrian in NHL history. He joined the Buffalo Sabres in 2005, playing for the team over eight seasons and reaching a conference final in 2006-07, the year where he also posted his best statistical offensive numbers, with 43 goals and 84 points. In 2013-2014, the last year of his contract, the left-wing was traded twice before deciding to sign, last July, with the Minnesota Wild. A productive forward over his career in the NHL, the gifted goal scorer has played multiple times for his national team, winning the World Championships (Group A) in 2008 and captaining his country in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Others: Thomas Morgenstern (Ski Jumping), Marcel Hirscher (Alpine Skiing), David Alaba (football), Andreas and Wolfgang Linger (Luge)

Venues

Innsbruck, the Austrian capital of winter sports, hosted the Winter Olympic Game in two occasions (1964 and 1976) and is one of the three cities in the world to boast that achievement. Located in the west part of the country, the capital of the state of Tirol is situated on a valley surrounded by a part of the Northern Alps, and offers easy access to several ski resorts, including Igls, home of Olympic Sliding Center, Seefeld and Muttereralm. Bergiselschanze, Innsbruck’s ski jumping hill, receives, in the first week of the New Year, the third competition of the Four Hills Tournament, one of most important moments of the Ski Jumping World Cup season.

About 100km east of Innsbruck, Kitzbuhel is a small medieval town known for its main ski resort, situated in the Hahnenkamm Mountain and the place of one of the toughest events on the Alpine Skiing World Cup calendar.

The Hahnenkamm downhill event, in Kitzbuhel

As the country is mostly renowned for the ski resorts, there are not a lot of stadiums or indoor venues internationally recognizable, with the exception of the 50 000 seat’s Ernst-Happel Stadium in Vienna, the home of the Austrian Football Team and the venue for the 2008 UEFA European Championship Final.

Yearly Events

A number of sporting events can be attended every year in Austria. Here is a list of the most relevant:

Alpine Skiing World Cup Events

Soelden (October), Semmering (December), Bad Kleinkirchheim, Flachau, Kitzbuhel, Schladming (January), Saalbach (February)

The popular Klagenfurt Beach Volleyball Grand Slam

Ski Jumping World Cup Events

Innsbruck, Bischofshofen, Tauplitz/Bad Mitterndorf, Hizenbach (January)

Tennis Tournaments

WTA Bad Gastein, ATP Kitzbuhel (July), WTA Linz, ATP Vienna (October)

Austrian Formula One Grand Prix

At the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg (June)

FIVB Beach Volleyball A1 Grand Slam

Klagenfurt (July)