(Reuters) - U.S. ski great Lindsey Vonn will try to throw her hurting body down a slope one last time before heading into retirement while Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal is also ready to bow out at the Alpine world championships starting in Sweden on Tuesday.
The farewells from two giants of the sport, their long careers garlanded with success and scarred by injuries, are high on a list of compelling storylines playing out over the next two-weeks in Are.
When it comes to winning, Austria’s Marcel Hirscher and Vonn’s team mate Mikaela Shiffrin will take some beating however.
The World Cup’s king and queen are as dominant as ever — Hirscher, 29, heading to Sweden with 10 wins this season while Shiffrin has racked up 13 and looks likely to be the stand-out skier of the championships.
Hirscher is on course for an eighth successive overall World Cup title and the reigning slalom and giant slalom world champion, and double Olympic gold medallist, also leads the standings in those disciplines.
Shiffrin, also a double Olympic gold medallist and now with 56 career wins, leads the women’s overall, super-G, giant slalom and slalom World Cups.
“She is in a really good place and in my opinion will come away from the World Championships with a lot of medals, at least three,” said Bode Miller, the most successful male U.S. skier of all time.
If her dominance has become too predictable for some, Shiffrin is unrepentant as she heads to the resort where she took her first World Cup win in a slalom in 2012.
“I heard many people say to this point that it’s boring to watch these races if it’s the same winner. For me, it’s not boring,” she said after winning a slalom in Maribor, Slovenia, on Saturday.
“Every race I’m fighting, I’m trying my hardest. There’s always a new goal, always something to keep doing better.”
Shiffrin won slalom gold at the 2017 St Moritz world championships, after victories in 2015 and 2013 and a likely fourth in a row would be unprecedented.
And yet her surprise fourth place in the discipline at last year’s Pyeongchang Olympics means nothing can be taken for granted.
The American should be in the thick of the action from Tuesday, with the women’s super-G the opening race on the programme.
Ester Ledecka, the Czech Olympic super-G champion who also won gold in snowboarding at Pyeongchang in an historic double, is another contender.
Vonn, who in 2010 became the first American woman to win Olympic downhill gold, announced on Friday that she will compete in the super-G and downhill before hanging up her racing skis for good at the age 34.
Training for the speed events starts on Monday and promises to be painful for the photogenic skier, who once dated professional golfer Tiger Woods and whose popular appeal transcends the sport.
“My body is broken beyond repair and it isn’t letting me have the final season I dreamed of. My body is screaming at me to STOP and it’s time for me to listen,” she said on Instagram last week.
Svindal, a double Olympic gold medallist and two times overall World Cup winner whose eight world championship medals include five golds between 2007-13, will also be pushing back the pain barrier.
“When we’re both done, I’m pretty sure there will be a hell of a party to celebrate,” the 36-year-old Olympic downhill champion said on Instagram.
Sweden’s 2018 Olympic slalom champion Andre Myhrer, 36, is also likely to be saying his goodbyes on home snow.
Are will be hosting the biennial world championships for the third time, after 2007 and 1954.
The showcase men’s downhill is on Saturday, Feb. 9, with the women’s race on Sunday. The technical disciplines are in the second week.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis