Tina Maze can be 1st skier in 46 years to sweep season titles
Tina Maze is targeting the greatest season in Alpine World Cup history, and aims to start finals week on Wednesday by dethroning downhill queen Lindsey Vonn.
On the men's side in Lenzerheide, Aksel Lund Svindal likely must repeat his stunning run of victories here in 2007 to beat Marcel Hirscher for the overall title.
Despite Vonn's absence through injury, the season finale promises trophies being decided by tiny margins and possibly history for Maze.
In 46 World Cup seasons, only French great Jean-Claude Killy in 1967 has ever swept their season's titles.
Maze can match that this week in Lenzerheide, Switzerland in a more competitive era, and sustaining her excellence over more than twice as many races.
"I was dreaming about this as a kid, that I would be so good," the Slovenian said on Tuesday. "I am really living it."
When Killy dominated the inaugural men's circuit, he topped the overall, downhill, giant slalom and slalom standings across a 17-race season from January to March.
Injuries aside, Maze will complete a 37-race, five-month campaign on Sunday with a record points total, approaching 2,500, and can add downhill, super-G and slalom titles to the overall and GS crystal globes she locked up weeks ago.
"After a long season, I am happy and proud," said Maze, who had a further five races at the world championships last month and took a gold medal and two silvers in Schladming, Austria.
She had already outpaced Vonn, who was slowed by illness in November, before the defending champion's season ended blowing out her right knee in the worlds super-G, which Maze won.
Such is Vonn's strength in downhill that the five-time title winner still leads the season-long standings, but her 1-point margin won't survive if Maze starts and gets a top-15 placing on Wednesday.
The weather forecast suggests the race will happen, though Maze can be overhauled by Vonn's good friend, Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, or her American teammate Stacey Cook.
Weather poses a greater risk to Thursday's super-G, but cancelling will gift Maze the title and deny second-place Julia Mancuso a shot at earning her first career crystal.
"I'm psyched to be in the hunt," the American said on Tuesday, though adding: "In order to win the globe, you have to win races and I haven't won races this season."
Mancuso believes Maze's season ranks among the all-time greatest.
"Definitely. In the modern day it's super-impressive, especially when there are no guys that can be competitive in four disciplines," Mancuso said.
The successful U.S. team — and the season's breakout star — poses the biggest danger to a Maze sweep in slalom.
Mikaela Shiffrin, who celebrates her 18th birthday on Wednesday before arriving at the Swiss village, has three wins to Maze's two, and trails by just seven points with 100 awarded to the race winner on Saturday.
Svindal hopes the season-closing men's slalom on Sunday — Hirscher's specialist event — won't be decisive even though he starts the week 149 points back.
"If it comes down to the slalom, I'm in trouble," joked the genial Norwegian, who might first need to win the downhill, super-G and GS races — as he did six years ago to take his first giant crystal globe. He got a second in 2009.
"It basically means bringing out the best week of my career," said Svindal, who leads the downhill standings going into Wednesday's race and already secured the super-G title. "I have had a really good season and he (Hirscher) just had an even better one."
Svindal's threat has Hirscher concerned enough to arrive early and plan a rare start in super-G.
Hirscher's outstanding giant slalom form has been eclipsed only by Ted Ligety's career year, and the three-time world champion from the U.S. goes for a sixth World Cup win on Saturday.
Even another thrilling Ligety-Hirscher duel that day could be simply a sideshow to Maze vs. Shiffrin with history in the making.