Olympians In the Gates

Vermont has trained some of the top ski racers in the world. But everyone is still asking: who’s going to make it to PyeongChang?

It’s a sure bet that, barring any injury, Burke Mountain Academy grad and reigning World Cup Champion in slalom Mikaela Shiffrin will be competing in PyeonChang, along with superstar Lindsay Vonn.

Shiffrin is proving she can win at pretty much any event, not just slalom.  In December alone, Shiffrin won a downhill and a GS World Cup race, and took home slalom wins at Killington, in Courcheval, France, and Lienz, Austria.

Behind Shiffrin stand several promising women racers with Vermont ties and World Cup finishes including Burke grad, Nina O’Brien—a former national champion in GS, University of Vermont’s Paula Moltzan (who won  Junior Worlds in slalom in 2015) and Dartmouth ski racer Tricia Mangan.

Perhaps the one with the best shot of making the team is Stratton Mountain School grad Alice Merryweather. Last March, Merryweather won the downhill in the World Junior Championships which earned her a spot at the World Cup finals in Aspen. There, she raced to a remarkable 19th, earning her World Cup points.

Another University of Vermont racer, Quebec’s Laurence St. Germain, may also stand a chance: she’s one of Canada’s top-ranked GS racers and earned a 14th at the World Cup in Killington.

This year, more than ever, the U.S. team will need depth if they want to do well in a brand new (and seemingly made-for-TV event): the team slalom, which has two men and two women duking it out on a dual slalom courses for a team title.

When asked for his picks for that event, Doug Lewis, an NBC announcer and former Olympic medalist from Middlebury, Vt., said:  “A top team could be Mikaela Shiffrin and Resi Stiegler for women and Ted Ligety and Dave Chodunsky for men,” he says. “Or you might see Mikaela and Ted sit this one out if they have enough medals and want to get back to World Cup.

On the men’s side, there are a host of contenders from the Green Mountains: could longshot Redneck Racer Robby Kelley, or his cousin Ryan Cochran-Siegle make it? Cochran-Siegle posted some of the best times of any American at the World Cup races in Bormio, Italy, in late December. How about Green Mountain Valley School grads AJ Ginnis, Nolan Kasper or Drew Duffy? Or Middlebury College’s 2014 grad, Hig Roberts?

“We’re looking to announce the team sometime the third week in January,” was all Tom Kelly of U.S. Skiing would reveal.  Even Lewis was shaking his head. “It’s really going to come down to how skiers do in January’s World Cup events. They have to have a minimum number of World Cup points to even qualify,” he explained. To earn World Cup points, a racer must finish in the top 30 in a World Cup event.

The U.S. Team will have a maximum of 22 slots and can enter up to four racers in each of the events: downhill, super-G, combined, giant slalom, slalom and a new dual-slalom team event. And the team can only have 14 of either gender. Perhaps the biggest challenge is earning enough World Cup points to qualify.

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