Ones to watch at the alpine skiing world championships in Are
Mikaela Shiffrin and Marcel Hirscher chase new records as Lindsey Vonn and Aksel Lund Svindal bid farewell.
For the third time in its history after 1954 and 2007, the Swedish town of Are welcomes the best alpine skiers in the world, as it hosts the 45th edition of the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.
A record 76 nations have entered teams, including Brazil, Ghana, Jordan and Nepal.
In Salbaach, Austria, in 1991, there were just 17 countries present.
The event starts on 4 February with the opening ceremony and will last until Sunday 17 February for a total of 11 medal events, including a team event.
Only Michelle Gisin of Switzerland, the Olympic champion in the Combined event, will miss out on the big event with a knee injury.
Mikaela Shiffrin will continue her assault on the record books as she aims for a fourth straight slalom world title, an unprecedented feat (German skier Christl Cranz won four consecutive golds, but in the combined events).
The 23-year-old American, who's leading the ladies' slalom, giant slalom and Super-G World Cup rankings, has been dominant this season, collecting a flurry of records.
By clinching her first Super-G race in Lake Louise, Canada, in December, the PyeongChang 2018 gold medallist became one of the seven women to have won at least one event in each discipline.
In 2018 she also became the first skier, male or female, to have won 15 races in a calendar year.
"Sometimes it's a little bit more difficult to stay focused when everyone's talking about records, records, records but this year's it's been pretty fun," Shiffrin told CNN.
The two-time Olympic champion is also just one win short of the single-season World Cup record of 14 set by Vreni Schneider in 1988/89.
Shiffrin has overtaken the Swiss triple Olympic champ with 56 World Cup wins on the women's all-time list, surpassing Schneider by winning a slalom in Maribor. Now only Austria's Annemarie Moser-Proll (62) and Lindsey Vonn (82) have more.
Marcel Hirscher is also looking to add some more accolades to his trophy cabinet.
The 29-year-old Austrian superstar has won nine medals (six golds, one less than Toni Sailer's all-time record) at the Worlds so far and is set to defend his slalom and giant slalom crowns.
The seven-time overall World Cup winner is only three podium finishes away from Kjetil Andre Aamodt's record of 12, but he won't be able to repeat his three-medal performance from St Moritz 2017 this year, as he will not race the Super-G, team and combined events.
In his last event before the worlds, the Schladming slalom, Hirscher clinched his 10th World Cup win this season. It was his 68th overall, sitting second on the men's all-time list of wins behind Ingemar Stenmark (86).
After winning that event on home slopes, the two-time Olympic champion was congratulated by the Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen.
New ski talents
Shiffrin and Hirscher will be the favourites in the technical events (slalom and giant slalom), but in this post-PyeongChang season other skiers have had the opportunity to emerge and give them a run for their money.
Petra Vlhova has been Shiffrin's biggest rival. The 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) champion is second in the women's overall rankings after making 10 podiums and collecting four wins, including her first two giant slalom victories.
"She is at the same level as Mikaela," Vlhova's coach Livio Magoni said.
On the men's side, Hirscher has a 484-point margin on second-placed Alexis Pinturault of France in the overall standings.
However the Frenchman started to feel the pressure in Schladming, failing to finish the race when he straddled a gate early on his first run.
Austria's Marco Schwarz, 23, is another one to watch.
The Innsbruck 2012 YOG gold medallist made a name for himself with World Cup wins this season in the Oslo city event and in the Wengen combined.
Competition in the speed disciplines (Super-G and downhill) looks more unpredictable, both for men and women.
Reigning downhill world champion Beat Feuz has been the more consistent this season (five podiums, one win), but 'Kitzbuhel king' Dominik Paris of Italy, Austrian duo Vincent Kriechmayr and Matthias Mayer, and Norway's Aleksander Aamodt Kilde have also been very fast.
Reigning Super-G world champ Nicole Schmidhofer, who's leading the downhill standings, will be one of favourites to win both ladies' speed races.
The Italian recently clinched two second places in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on her World Cup season debut after recovering from a broken ankle.
The Czech skier, who skipped the Snowboard World Championships as that event clashes with the Alpine Ski worlds, equalled her best World Cup finish when she finished seventh in the Val Gardena downhill in December.
Vonn and Svindal wave goodbye
Both Lindsey Vonn and Aksel Lundal Svindal have announced their retirements, which will be after the world championships.
The two Olympic champions will race for the last time on a course where they both won world medals 12 years ago.
Svindal will be the first to bid farewell after the men's downhill on 9 February.
The Norwegian, who has recorded three podiums and one win (in the Val Gardena Super-G) this season, will put an end to a 17-year-long career. He will leave the sport with four Olympic medals (two gold), at least eight world medals (five gold), and two overall World Cup Crystal Globes.
Meanwhile, Vonn will make her eighth and final appearance at the World Championships.
The most successful female skier of all time with 82 World Cup wins will race the Super-G on 5 February and then the downhill on the 10th in what will probably be an emotional day.
This season the Vancouver 2010 gold medallist has only competed at the Cortina World Cup, where she failed to finish the Super-G race because of her aching knees.
Tribute messages from the whole sporting world have flooded social media since the 'speed queen' announced the definitive date of her retirement.
|Date||Event||2017 World champion||2018 Olympic champion||Current World Cup leader|
|4 February||Opening Ceremony|
|5 February||Ladies’ Super-G||Nicole Schmidhofer (AUT)||Ester Ledecka (CZE)||Mikaela Shiffrin (USA)|
|6 February||Men’s Super-G||Erik Guay (CAN)||Matthias Mayer (AUT)||Vincent Kriechmayr (AUT)|
|8 February||Ladies’ Alpine Combined||Wendy Holdener (SUI)||Michelle Gisin (SUI)||(None)|
|9 February||Men’s Downhill||Beat Feuz (SUI)||Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR)||Beat Feuz (SUI)|
|10 February||Ladies’ Downhill||Ilka Stuhec (SLO)||Sofia Goggia (ITA)||Nicole Schmidhofer (AUT)|
|11 February||Men’s Alpine Combined||Luca Aerni (SUI)||Marcel Hirscher (AUT)||Marco Schwarz (AUT)|
|12 February||Alpine team event||France (FRA)||Switzerland (SUI)||(None)|
|14 February||Ladies’ Giant Slalom||Tessa Worley (FRA)||Mikaela Shiffrin (USA)||Mikaela Shiffrin (USA)|
|15 February||Men’s Giant Slalom||Marcel Hirscher (AUT)||Marcel Hirscher (AUT)||Marcel Hirscher (AUT)|
|16 February||Ladies’ Slalom||Mikaela Shiffrin (USA)||Frida Hansdotter (SWE)||Mikaela Shiffrin (USA)|
|17 February||Men’s Slalom||Marcel Hirscher (AUT)||Andre Myhrer (SWE)||Marcel Hirscher (AUT)|