World Cup Maze skis to a stop in Swiss Country

Not even Ted Ligety’s (at right) banner season for the United States can conceal the success of Marcel Hirscer (bottom left). The Austrian is close to locking up the overall World Cup crystal globe at this weekend’s season-ending World Cup finals. Enlarge photo

Alessandro Trovati/Associated Press file photo

Not even Ted Ligety’s (at right) banner season for the United States can conceal the success of Marcel Hirscer (bottom left). The Austrian is close to locking up the overall World Cup crystal globe at this weekend’s season-ending World Cup finals.

LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland – Tina Maze is targeting the greatest season in World Cup history, and she aims to start finals week today by dethroning downhill queen Lindsey Vonn.

On the men’s side in Lenzerheide, Aksel Lund Svindal likely must repeat his stunning run of victories here in 2007 to beat Marcel Hirscher for the overall title.

Hirscher’s outstanding giant slalom form has been eclipsed only by Ted Ligety’s career year, and the three-time world champion from the U.S. will ski for a sixth World Cup win Saturday.

Despite Vonn’s absence because of a knee injury – and missing other star attractions such as Bode Miller, resting for the Olympic season, and retired home favorite Didier Cuche – the season finale likely will be decided by tiny margins.

In 46 World Cup seasons, only French great Jean-Claude Killy in 1967 has ever swept their season’s titles. Maze can match that this week in a more competitive era, and she’s sustaining her excellence in more than twice as many races.

“I was dreaming about this as a kid, that I would be so good,” the Slovenian said Tuesday. “I am really living it.”

When Killy dominated the inaugural men’s circuit, he topped the overall, downhill, giant slalom and slalom standings across a 17-race season from January to March.

Maze will complete a 37-race, five-month campaign Sunday with a record points total, approaching 2,500. She can add downhill, super-G and slalom titles to the overall and GS crystal globes she locked up weeks ago.

“After a long season, I am happy and proud,” said Maze, who competed in five races at the World Championships last month and took home a gold medal and two silvers.

The successful U.S. team – and the season’s breakout star Mikaela Shiffrin – pose the biggest danger to a Maze sweep in slalom.

Shiffrin, who celebrates her 18th birthday today, has three wins to Maze’s two, and trails by just seven points with 100 awarded to Saturday’s race winner.

Maze already had outpaced Vonn, who was slowed by illness in November, before the defending champion’s season-ended crash in the worlds’ super-G, which Maze won.

Such is Vonn’s strength in downhill that the five-time title winner still leads the season-long standings, but her one-point margin won’t last if Maze starts and gets a top-15 placing today.

The weather forecast suggests the race will happen, though Maze can be overtaken by Vonn’s good friend, Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, or her American teammate Stacey Cook.

Weather poses a greater risk to Thursday’s super-G, but cancelling will give Maze the title and deny second-place Julia Mancuso a shot at earning her first career crystal.

“I’m psyched to be in the hunt,” the American said Tuesday.

But Mancuso is realistic.

“In order to win the globe, you have to win races, and I haven’t won races this season,” she said.

Mancuso believes Maze’s season ranks among the all-time greatest.

“Definitely. In the modern day it’s super-impressive, especially when there are no guys that can be competitive in four disciplines,” Mancuso said.

Svindal hopes Sunday’s season-ending men’s slalom – Hirscher’s specialty event – won’t be decisive even though he starts the week 149 points back.

The Norwegian needs to win the downhill, super-G and GS races – as he did six years ago to take his first giant crystal globe.

“It basically means bringing out the best week of my career,” said Svindal, who leads the downhill standings going into today’s race and already secured the super-G title. “I have had a really good season, and (Hirscher) just had an even better one.”

Svindal’s threat has Hirscher concerned enough to plan a rare start in super-G. Even another thrilling Ligety-Hirscher duel that day, however, could be simply a sidebar to Maze vs. Shiffrin with history in the making.

Slovenia’s Tina Maze has celebrated one of the greatest seasons in World Cup history, and it could get even better this weekend in the season-ending competition in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. She’s trying to become the first skier to sweep all of the discipline titles since Jean-Claude Killy in 1967. Enlarge photo

Marco Trovati/Associated Press file photo

Slovenia’s Tina Maze has celebrated one of the greatest seasons in World Cup history, and it could get even better this weekend in the season-ending competition in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. She’s trying to become the first skier to sweep all of the discipline titles since Jean-Claude Killy in 1967.