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Lindsey Vonn targets speed in alpine skiing world champs year

PARIS (AFP) – 

American star Lindsey Vonn has set her sights on more glory in the speed events in alpine skiing’s new season that gets under way at the Austrian resort of Soelden this weekend.

Vonn won’t be present for the giant slalom on Soelden’s Rettenbach glacier, its icy, steep pitch ensuring a no-nonsense return to the demanding World Cup circuit that takes in meets throughout Europe, North America and South Korea, the latter on slopes to be used for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

The 32-year-old American, who holds the women’s record for alpine skiing World Cup victories with 76, has been in the full throes of launching a new book ‘Strong Is The New Beautiful’.

Never one to shy from publicity, Vonn, who dated golfer Tiger Woods for two years, has drawn criticism and praise alike for a series of posed photographs featuring only her and a pair of poles in a wind tunnel.

“Unfortunately I won’t be heading to Soelden for the first race this year,” Vonn said.

“I’m disappointed I won’t be there but my goals for this season are focused more on downhill and super-G races.”

The eight-time World Cup downhill champion will likely have an eye on the February 6-19 World Ski Championships in St Moritz, which are followed by the World Cup finals on home snow in Aspen.

One leading contender for the overall women’s title will also be missing from Soelden.

Austrian Anna Veith, overall women’s ski champion in 2014 and 2015 under her maiden name of Fenninger, missed all last season after sustaining a nasty knee injury.

A nine-month lay-off saw her back on skis in August, but Veith said: “I’ve realised that I need more time.

“Racing as I imagine it is still not possible.”

Switzerland’s Lara Gut claimed the overall globe last season, but insisted that the results were not all that counted.

“If I manage to take pleasure in what I do and express myself to the best of my abilities, the target will be reached,” said Gut.

“I focus solely on the process and not just the result.”

Gut, the reigning Olympic downhill bronze medallist who shot to fame with two world silvers as a 17-year-old in the 2009 worlds, added: “I’m really happy to launch myself into a new season, which I hope will be rich, intense and breathtaking.

“I can’t wait to rediscover the adrenaline of the starting gate and the emotions which follow a successfully-skied race.”

Another big name missing from Soelden will be Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, who will also skip Austria in a bid to regain full fitness.

The 2007 and 2009 World Cup overall champion, a five-time world gold medallist and 2010 Olympic super-G champion, is part of a strong Norwegian team that will hope to throw Austrian master Marcel Hirscher off course.

Hirscher has dominated the men’s World Cup, winning the last five consecutive overall titles — a feat never achieved before.

The Austrian’s domination is built on the back of consistent showings in the technical events of the slalom and giant slalom, opting out of the downhill while competing in the super-G and combined events.

In 178 World Cup races, he has made the podium an incredible 91 times, winning 39.

This season’s World Cup calendar includes a city event in Stockholm and a parallel giant slalom in Alta Badia, innovations men’s race director Markus Waldner said were crucial for generating interest.

“Some of our disciplines developed in a way that is no longer very attractive for normal TV viewers, but only for hard-core ski fans who know the technical details,” conceded Waldner.

“So to activate and involve a wider audience, we need to have an easy and understandable product. The parallel races are a good example, as the head-to-head format is very exciting and easy to understand.”

Waldner added: “In the long term we’ll need to change something in our calendar, and we’re already working on it. No revolution, but steady evolution towards a better World Cup.”

© 2016 AFP