Some racers believe that becoming the next resounding champion is nearly impossible without a personal team of trainers, coaches and physical therapists, as Shiffrin has and as Hirscher and Vonn had for much of their careers.
“We just don’t have enough money to compete with anything like that,’’ said American speed specialist Travis Ganong. “For us, we just have to make do with what we have and if we’re competitive, it’s just that much sweeter.”
The Austrian team is naturally vying to fill the top spot that Hirscher left, but according to one of the team’s standout speed specialists, Vincent Kriechmayr, a personal entourage is not that important.
“For us super G and downhill skiers, it’s not good to be alone,” Kriechmayr said. “You’re always learning from your teammates more than your trainers. You’re pushing together. Of course, I have to be fast. I want to beat my teammates, but you’re getting faster on a good team.”
Also, as evidenced by Vonn and Svindal’s careers, champion status can be derailed by one small slip in a sport in which athletes reach speeds of 80 m.p.h. Matthias Mayer of Austria, another front-runner to become the sport’s next luminary, knows this all too well, having crashed in training earlier this week but lucky enough to walk away unscathed.
“I could be so fast and then the season is over,” Mayer said. “There are many, many fast racers here. And it’s a long season.”
The bottom line is that men’s Alpine skiing is highly competitive. An athlete like Shiffrin, who continues to slay the field in slalom, a discipline in which numerous skiers race exclusively, as well as hold court in all other disciplines (GS, super G, downhill and alpine combined), simply doesn’t exist on the men’s side.