Too many variables exist in the sport of ski racing to properly predict outcomes, especially at major events like this week's world championships in Schladming, Austria. It is largely this element of difficulty and unpredictability that makes consistent performers so impressive.
This season alone, a few of the world's elite arrived in Schladming with unprecedented results: Marcel Hirscher with six wins and 12 podium finishes; Aksel Lund Svindal with five wins and seven podiums; Ted Ligety with four wins and five podiums; and most impressive, Tina Maze with eight wins and 18 podiums.
Still, most people favoured Lindsey Vonn to take Tuesday's women's super-G at Schladming, having six wins so far this season. Lindsey also arrived at this major event (by that, I mean worlds and Olympics) healthy and rested for what she said was the first time.
Sadly, as the high speed and high risk sport of alpine has proven again and again, it only takes a split second to change the foreseeable to the unthinkable. For the first time in her career, Lindsey was unable to find one of her remarkable recoveries in her bags of tricks. She went down after landing too far forward on a jump mid-course as she navigated her way down the track. Vonn suffered a torn ACL, MCL and a fractured tibial plateau.
The alpine world was rocked by this news and saddened to see a great athlete go down. One year out from the Sochi Olympics, Lindsey is hopeful of a full and strong return to racing, perhaps by next December. However, it is far too early to know for sure.
On Facebook, Lindsey's ex-husband Thomas Vonn wrote simply, "I cried today." I'm sure many others from Lindsey's legion of fans did as well.
No doubt, the nearly 320,000 spectators expected to roll through Schladming's little mountain village to take in the worlds will be missing their beloved star, Lindsey.
Still, the race goes on as it always does.
In the end, the podium held stars that didn't surprise anyone, with Maze on top, Lara Gut in second and Julia Mancuso in third.
I must note here that there is no big-event athlete in the world quite like Mancuso. Her ability to hit the podium at world championships and Olympics is nothing short of miraculous. Not always favoured or statistically expected to hold a medal at some of the major events, she is always someone to watch. Always.
Adoration in Austria
The respect and adoration the alpine athletes receive in countries that truly understand the difficulty and risk of what they do is both astounding and admirable. These athletes are loved and heralded for their guts and skill. I expect the crowds in Schladming to be nothing short of at capacity -- and in an outdoor sport that covers kilometres in distance travelled, that is saying a lot.
With Canada having retained the world downhill title for the last four years, we will anxiously await this year's men's downhill on Saturday (CBCSports.ca, 4:55 a.m. ET). With John Kucera winning in 2009 and Erik Guay backing up his performance to win again in 2011, there is much excitement around the battle for the title. Canada's men's downhill team is strong and has a shot to find itself, once again, among the world's best.
Guay, coming off two podiums this season, including one at Kitzbuehel, Austria, that broke a 22-year podium dry spell for Canadians at that venue, is our best predictable contender. However, if alpine has taught us nothing else, it is to expect the unexpected.
The women's slalom on Feb. 16 (CBCSports.ca, 3:55 a.m. ET) is also likely to garner a lot of Canadian attention. Erin Mielzinski will be leading the charge, backed up by her second World Cup podium in Zagreb, Austria. Canada's women's team is also deep with talent, which will make the slalom exciting to watch.
If you are reading this, then I'm sure this goes without saying, look for the entertaining yet unexpected to unfold at this year's alpine worlds.
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