By Nick Mulvenney
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – The Alpine skiing team event looks like lacking in star quality when it makes its Olympic debut in Pyeongchang this week after Lindsey Vonn became the latest high-profile athlete to say she probably won’t be taking part.
The inaugural team event is scheduled for Saturday as the climax to the program and will bring mixed sex competition, knockout racing and parallel skiing to the Olympic Alpine slopes for the first time.
Marcel Hirscher, who has claimed two gold medals in Pyeongchang, ruled out competing for Austria before the start of the Olympics because he felt it would compromise his bid to win a seventh successive World Cup overall title.
Norwegian speed racers Aksel Lund Svindal, the men’s downhill champion, and Kjetil Jansrud have headed back to Europe after the completion of their individual events.
American Teg Ligety said he would race in the event if overall World Cup leader Mikaela Shiffrin did, but on Sunday he confirmed his run in the men’s giant slalom had brought an end to his Pyeongchang Olympics.
“I was an absolute no before but I was thinking about it,” Vonn said on Monday.
“But now Ted’s gone and Mikaela is not doing it and so I don’t really think we have a strong chance of getting a medal since none of our top athletes are doing it so I probably won’t.”
Hirscher, favorite to win a third gold in the men’s slalom on Thursday, had said competing in the team event would allow him insufficient time to get to Slovenia for the resumption of the World Cup next week.
“It would be a big honor to start for Austria but… it is not possible,” the 28-year-old said.
“If you do the team event, four days later you are back in Europe at Kranjska Gora in the giant slalom, no time for preparation, no time for recovery, no time for getting used to European time.
“So, it would be great to be there but if I’m professional, it is not possible.”
The team event, an attempt by the governing International Ski Federation to refresh the Alpine program, will be contested by 16 teams on a knockout basis with the winners of the final round taking gold.
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Ed Osmond)