Travis Ganong and the rest of the American Downhillers are in for a dark, bumpy ride as the World Cup circuit returns to action this week in Santa Caterina, Italy. (Getty/AFP-Guiseppe Cacace)
SEMMERING, Austria (Dec. 26, 2016) – The holiday flew by on the Audi FIS Ski World Cup circuit. With the rescheduled giant slalom race from Courchevel for the women and super G from Lake Louise for the men, there wasn’t much time for celebration and relaxation. Even so, the athletes made the most of their time, celebrating with teammates and family before moving on to Semmering and Santa Caterina, Italy.
On the women’s side, the tour returns to the iconic Semmering giant slalom/slalom venue outside Vienna for three races, including an important night slalom for Mikaela Shiffrin (Eagle-Vail, CO) on Thursday. Shiffrin will look to build on her win streak, which is at six successive wins following her victory in Sestriere.
Mikaela Shiffrin last competed in a night slalom race at Semmering, Austria in 2012. (Getty/Agence Zoom-Christophe Pallot)
In giant slalom, there’s a lot to be jazzed about. All eyes will be on the Italians, France’s Tessa Worley, Switzerland’s Lara Gut and Austria’s Anna Veith (formerly Fenninger) – who returns to World Cup action after sitting the entire 2015-16 season out with a knee injury. Her last race was on March 22, 2015, when she won the giant slalom in Méribel, France. All races will be streamed live on NBC Sports with the second run in Thursday's slalom now set for live broadcast on NBCSN.
The men will encounter a different, less jolly version of Santa, when they kick off their speed series at Santa Caterina, Italy. The week opens Tuesday with a makeup of the Lake Louise super G, with a downhill Wednesday and alpine combined Thursday.
Last year, this track was gnarly, dark and relentless and Italy's Christof Innerhofer stole the show with a Bode-style downhill performance. In 2014, Travis Ganong (Squaw Valley, CA) snagged his career-first win in the Santa Caterina downhill. This season, the snow is a bit less bumpy than last year, but the track is inconsistent with slick spots mixed with grippy sections.
“It’s bumpy, it’s icy, it’s dark – it’s like the first real test of the year,” Ganong said of the Santa Caterina track. “It’s really not easy. Hopefully I can do what I did two years ago and have a good day.”
The American Downhillers had a unique opportunity to train with the Italians on the track prior to the holiday. In Monday's first and only downhill training Steven Nyman (Sundance, UT) was 13th and Bryce Bennett (Squaw Valley, CA) 27th. Tommy Biesemeyer (Keene, NY) clocked the fourth-fastest time, but was disqualified. His skiing is solid, though, so the speed should give him some confidence going into Tuesday’s super G. Ganong caught an edge, nearly did the splits, but is OK and will start tomorrow.
The Attacking Viking Aksel Lund Svindal – current leader in the downhill standings – surprised everyone when he announced he’d be sitting Santa Caterina out to rest his knee.
Universal HD and NBCSN will cover all of the action this week, with the second run in Thursday's slalom in Semmering set for live broadcast on NBCSN. Live streaming of all races will be available on NBCsports.com/live.
Road to Aspen Audi FIS Ski World Cup Finals Austrian Marcel Hirscher is bringing a 251-point lead over Norway's Kjetil Jansrud into the Santa Caterina race week. Jansrud, who is two-for-two in super G this year, is likely to narrow that margin but unlikely to eclipse Hirscher who has been the dominant athlete so far this season in the race for the globe this March at Aspen. Mikaela Shiffrin still enjoys the lead - but only a narrow five-point margin over Swiss Lara Gut. But the real story going into Semmering is four women within 31 points. So the title chase remains wide open. It should be quite a battle with four straight tech events - three in Semmering then another in Zagreb, Croatia - before the tour moves back to speed in Altenmarkt, Austria in early January.
QUOTES Steven Nyman They prepared the slope quite well. The upper pitch has a few gates that are pretty icy, but other than that it’s nice. The snow is much more responsive and fun to ski on. Last year it was really bumpy, really icy and it was pretty ugly to watch. Today was a lot more fun to ski…I had two big mistakes, easy fixes and other than that my other splits were really good. So, if I clean that up I think I can do well here. It’s icy and bumpy those first few turns, but other than that it’s money.
Bryce Bennett They made a couple of changes this year. The snow conditions have improved; the light has not improved. They kind of changed the course set up a little bit, so it flows a little better and the snow is easier so you can ski your own line and it’s pretty good. It was fun.
[On tricky sections of the course for fans to watch] Yeah, the first 30 seconds of the course definitely. It features some big turns into some pretty fast half turns that are tough to commit to in the dark and they’re pretty bumpy and it’s injected up there. That top section is pretty firm. But, nothing too hard – it's just good skiing here…just move to the new ski and go.
Travis Ganong It’s bumpy, it’s icy, it’s dark – it’s like the first real test of the year. It’s really not easy. Hopefully I can do what I did two years ago and have a good day. I’ve never skied the super G here before. This year so far I have two seventh places – one in downhill and one in super G – so they’re both working. We’ll see.
BROADCAST AND LIVE STREAMING (times EST) Tuesday, Dec. 27 3:45 a.m. – Semmering women’s giant slalom – run 1 – nbcsports.com – LIVE STREAM 5 a.m. – Santa Caterina men’s super G – nbcsports.com – LIVE STREAM 7 a.m. – Semmering women’s giant slalom – run 2 – nbcsports.com – LIVE STREAM 7:30 p.m. – Santa Caterina men’s super G – UniversalHD (Marco Sullivan’s broadcast debut) 9 p.m. – Semmering women’s giant slalom – UniversalHD
Wednesday, Dec. 28 4:30 a.m. – Semmering women’s giant slalom – run 1 – nbcsports.com – LIVE STREAM 5:45 a.m. – Santa Caterina men’s downhill – nbcsports.com – LIVE STREAM 7:30 a.m. – Semmering women’s giant slalom – run 2 – nbcsports.com – LIVE STREAM 3 p.m. – Santa Caterina men’s downhill – UniversalHD 4:30 p.m. – Semmering women’s giant slalom – UniversalHD
Thursday, Dec. 29 4:30 a.m. – Santa Caterina men’s combined – super G – nbcsports.com – LIVE STREAM 8 a.m. – Santa Caterina men’s combined – slalom – nbcsports.com – LIVE STREAM 9:00 a.m. – Semmering women’s slalom – run 1 – nbcsports.com – LIVE STREAM 11:30 a.m. – Semmering women’s slalom – run 2 – LIVE on NBCSN and LIVE STREAM 7:30 p.m. – Santa Caterina men’s Combined – UniversalHD
Live streaming available on NBCsports.com/Live and the NBC Sports app, which is available on the iTunes App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV and Amazon Fire.