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Germany: 2024 Pre-Season notes

Germany’s WAWC team has three racers whose seasons especially interest me: Lena Duerr, Kira Weidle, and Jess Hilzinger. Poised at distinctly different points in their careers, IMO this trio presents ski racing’s competitive arc as well as a chance to really shoot my mouth off, and probably my feet as well.

I’m sticking to these three for now. Frankly, the German A team is unimpressive, or at least has been. Excepting these three and Emma Aicher—a dynamic young prospect Featured 6 June--everyone on 2024 roster must at least double their best EOS Discipline rankings in order to contribute much. Two racers have basically no WAWC experience, so Germany is truly in a building phase, except at the top.


Lena Duerr

Lena Duerr is a top Slalom racer whose results improved dramatically from 2020 (EOS SL 15th) to 2021 (EOS SL 6th). This was right on prime years cue: she turned 29 August 2020. She’s an SL big dog consistently snapping for top dogs Shiffrin, Vlhova, and Holdener’s bones. Figuring she has two solid peak years left minimum, I think she’ll hold 2024 EOS SL T5/6. Better will be tough—Liensberger will be amped+ for a comeback; Moltzan and Bucik need big pushes mid-prime; Swenn Larsson has another fine year in the tank; young people Elfman and Ljutic may ramp up quickly.

I don’t see Lena beating the top dogs, and if Liensberger’s back at even 80% she’s probably Duerr’s equal. Lena, however, is settled into a really nice groove. She’s as experienced as anyone (193 WAWC starts; 91 EC) and is her team’s undisputed SL boss. DSV probably wishes she’d worked on GS more. She made a couple dozen EC starts long ago, with several wins/podiums but mostly T15+. It wasn’t her thing. Every squad needs a crack SL racer, and there she is.

Everyone on the WAWC circuit can improve. Weak 2nd runs have cost Duerr, probably a couple of wins over the past two seasons. What strikes me though, as it always does, is the insanely close margins between WAWC finishing positions. For example: 2022 final SL at Courcheval. Lena led after the first run; her 2nd run was 16th fastest—and she still finished 2nd. 1st run’s 2nd place racer DNFd 2nd run, and 1st run’s 3d place racer was then 18th fastest, finishing 4th. Lesson is even if you bone the 2nd run, so long as you finish it you’ll likely snag a decent final rank. But you won’t win…unless other top 1st runners ham it as well.

This is a precarious way to navigate the racing season. 2023’s Soldeu SL season finale she finished 14th with 2nd run 15th after 1st run 8th . Second Tech runs are rutted/harder on the leaders/final starters. Consistent top runners deal with it. At this race, T3 1st& 2nd run positions: Vlhova 1st and 4th to win; Popovc 2nd & 5th for second; Shiffrin 4th & 8th for third. So for Lena, consistency’s the final piece. She has everything else.

WAWC EOS SL 2021-2023

2023 4th – 11 starts – 1st; 2nd; 2x3d; 4xT10; 14th; 28th; DNF

2022 3d – 9 starts – 2nd; 3x3d; 3xT10; 2xT20

2021 6th – 9 starts – 3xT10; 5xT20; 23d

2020 15th – 6 starts – 2xT10; 3xT25; DNF

2019 16th – 9 starts – 10th; 3xT20; 25th; 2xDNF; 2xDNQ

Exceptional improvement 2020 to 2021. Ran the handful of EC and FIS SLs here, which may have helped sharpen her up. Coaching? Equipment? Maybe just found her game; things clicked.

EC

December 2020 – 2 starts – 5th; 6th

January 2021 – 2 starts – 1st; 2nd

FIS

January 2019 – 3 starts – 1st; 2nd; DNF

January 2020 – 2 starts – 2x1st

Nov-Dec 2020 – 3 starts – 1st; 2x10th

2023 World Champtionships – SL 3d. Previous WCs all T20 or so.

2022 Olympics – SL 4th. Excellent!

National Championships – About a dozen starts. Mixed bag; podiums or DNF about even.


Military and Police March 2012 to March 2023. Annual event racers sometimes attend?

SL – 8 starts – 2x1st; 2nd; 3d; 4x4th

New category for me. Apparently counts toward FIS points (not WAWC points), so are worthwhile besides practice. In different EU countries as well. Topic for peripheral article?


So how/why Lena leaped from average to excellent comes down to: she did. Probably skill, knowledge, instinct accumulated over the years.

Lena’s EOS SL T4/6 for rest of her career, I’d say. Considering she’ll continue competing against Shiffrin, Vlhova, Holdener in top form, very possibly Liensberger back in form, and a couple of sparking young hot shots, Duerr’s spot in her era’s SL upper rank is assured—even with a single win. She’s due for another win and two podiums, which would be EOS podium if DNF and T30 cleaned up. If Shiffrin forgoes a few SLs/Gisin also in Speedy seasons, Lena’s on podium. A true professional.





Kira Weidle

Kira Weidle epitomizes the athlete whose talent, whose potential, is still half-expressed/realized in the public eye. She’s good enough to podium almost her of her starts.

Kira has been expected to break big for the past couple seasons—break EOS standings, that is, because she has a World Championship DH silver, a DH 4th at Beijing (0.14 off bronze), a Europa Cup DH title (2016 at 20 years old). And what are people grousing about, anyway? She has EOS DH 2x5th (2019 & 2021), and was 7th last year. Turning 28 this coming February, she’s just beginning her prime years. Let the woman ski, already.

Two principal things, I think, form the opinion that Kira’s somehow underachieving. (The third possibility is that I’m imagining her anxious stature within Germany’s alpine racing cognoscenti. But I don’t think so. Weidle’s the DSV’s DH foreground to horizon for the next two/three seasons at least.)

Kira’s 2021 Worlds silver at Cortina catapulted her through the spotlight; naturally a bright freeze-frame celebrated her arrival. Finishing between Swiss Speed superstars Suter and Gut-Behrami, with Breezy Johnson the only other 25-year-old T10, was the proverbial Statement. EOS DH 5th that season—5xT10 including a podium from 7 starts. Solid. Then 2022 EOS DH 11th, with a 2nd and 4xT10 but also a 25th and a 39th. That shouldn’t happen. 2023 EOS DH 7th – back in the hunt with 2x3d and all else T10 or T15, except for a 24th and a DNF. Still no cigar. That Worlds 2nd now represented what Kira wasn’t.

As for my zwei pfennigs. She seems to occasionally stray from her line in a way that initially to me looked like course inspection memorization lapses, or perhaps speed management mistakes. Example: From bib 11 for the second Lake Louise DH (3 Dec 2022) she was in 6th overall position, 3d at the second speed mark (129.48km/80mph), in fine shape. Then she turned late off a final roller before the long gliding finish, into soft snow for a hard corrective turn--her next/last speed time 35th. She finished 11th—the next highest ranked who had better 2nd to 4th split times (but still not quite Kira’s 2nd speed mark) was Joana Haehlen, finishing 4th. That roller error, and another brief journey off-line a few seconds later, probably cost Kira a podium. Certainly a T5 finish. Weidle’s on-line speed, quickness, and railed strength are as good as anyone’s, to my eye. The undisciplined passages really hurt.

She’s well-positioned in DH’s big picture. Of its two heavies (IMO), Sofia Goggia will most likely retire after 2026 season, and Corinne Suter possibly. Of the younger to middle-aged people chasing them—Kira, Breezy, Bella, Kajsa, Nina, Mikaela if she commits at least 2/3 DH/Speed schedule—Kira will be the most experienced. With no major injury thus far (a permanent condition), she’ll be DH’s big dog within three seasons. That includes Shiffrin as well. Mikaela’s gifted, but I don’t think she’ll beat out a DH lifer. (People eager to bet me on that.) Ester Ledecka is the other big Speed name entering prime years.

WAWC EOS DH 2019-2023 (One EOS SG T20. Kira’s DH at heart like Ilka and Breezy.)

2023 7th – 9 starts – 2x3d; 2xT10; 3xT15; 24th; DNF

2022 11th – 8 starts – 2nd; 4xT10; 18th; 25th; 39th

2021 5th – 7 starts – 3d; 4xT10; 2xT15

2020 13th – 8 starts – 4xT10; 13th; 3xT25

2019 5th – 8 starts – 2x3d; 4xT10; 2xT15

Just one DNF—excellent. Some bizarrely out of touch finishes.

2022 Olympics – DH 4th Brava! SG 15th. Not bad for second Discipline

2018 Olympics – DH 11th. SG DNF

World Championships 2017 to 2023 4 meets

DH – 4 starts – 2nd; 8th; 13th; 29th

SG – 4 starts – 18th; 19th; 23d; 31st

Europa Cup – 2016 1st DH. Only full EC season

National Championships 2014 – 2023 8 meets

DH 6 starts – 3x1st; 3x2nd

SG 8 starts – 1st; 3d; 3xT10; 20th; 23d; DNF

GS 8 starts – 3xT10; 2xT20; 3xT30; 2xDNF


For almost any other WAWC racer a record this deep and solid would be welcomed. Kira Wiedle is a high-profile member of a prominent but lean WAWC team that hasn’t had a Speed win since February 2020. She’s often measured by potential, more than by achievement. Tough position.

That’s how I see it, anyway. English interviews on YT suggest gratitude for finding a metier so young, with a take this for granted confidence because she knows she belongs on WAWC. With a dedicated team, every voice is positive or helpfully critical. Weidle’s patiently improving. By fall 2025 at the latest she’ll turn confidence into trust and begin taking half-Goggia-level risk to shave off decisive quarters.

For 2024 Kira will reclaim EOS DH T5 and will score her first victory. A couple podiums, too. T25 slips are behind her, I think. Her talent’s due to assert itself. I put it this way because I sense Weidle will let it rip a bit more. She’s solid and fast. Like Breezy Johnson, a few hyper-piped turns to sit T6/7 by late January, then make the move. NTITAI, Kira may be Breezy’s head-to-head challenger from this season’s beginning. Big year for both.





Jessica Hilzinger

Jess Hilzinger is working her way up the Slalom rankings; she’ll be EOS T15 this season, from T20. Turned 26 last May, 2023 was her first full WAWC season; she’s made starts since 2016. From her races I've watched, modest technical polish and Hilzinger will run 2025 EOS SL T8. She’s strong, looks confident; aggressive. IG shows a vigorous young athlete admiring sunny vistas; cycling, boating, gym stuff. No food pictures. A wonderful russet-colored hound pic from a ways back. AFAICT, Jess is a pro in Lena’s mold. She knows she has a great job, and a hard one.

WAWC EOS SL

2023 20th – 10 starts – 2xT10; 3xT20; 2xT25; 2xDNF; DNQ. (8 GS starts – 8xDNF/Q)

2022 33d – 5 starts – 4xT25; DNQ. (2 GS starts – 2xDNF/Q)

2021 39th – 8 starts – 18th; 21st; 6xDNF/Q. (3 GS starts – 3xDNQ)


Europa Cup – EOS SL, GS (3d Overall 2020 & 2021.)

2023 GS 10th – 2 starts – 1st; 2nd.

2022 SL 8th – 8 starts – 3d; 4xT10; 2xDNF; DSQ2

GS 26th – 9 starts – 9th; 3xT20; 2xT25; 3xDNF

2021 SL 16th – 5 starts – 2nd; 4th; 2xT15; DNF

GS 4th – 9 starts – 1st; 2nd; 3d; 2xT5; 28th; 38th; 2xDNF

2020 SL 1st – 8 starts – 3x1st; 3d; 4th; 2x6th; DNF

GS 20th – 6 starts – 2xT10; 3xT20; 34th

National Championships – 2015 to 2023 7 meets

SL – 14 starts – 2x1st; 4x2nd; 7xT10; DNF

GS – 10 starts – 1st; 4xT10; 3xT20; 2xDNF


FIS 2017 to 2019 Lower-level GS development work; some SL for practice.

SL – 10 starts – 2x1st; 3x2nd; 2xT7; 3xDNF

GS – 11 starts – 2x1st; 2nd; 3d; 2xT10; 3xT20; 24th; 2xDNF


What’s my evidence that Hilzinger will boost her SL acceleration? Two basic things: First, her WAWC results are steadily improving as she gets more starts. 2xT10; 3xT20 is a modest achievement for half of 2023’s 10-start campaign, but she hadn’t scored a T20 ever before. More important, she cut her DNF/Qs in half from her previous full (8-start 2021) season.

Second, between those seasons, in 2022, she went half-time on WAWC and resumed full EC participation, taking a podium and 4xT10 on the junior circuit. So Jess’s competition schedule is being (skillfully) managed to keep her in WAWC’s game while slightly lesser-demanding races boost confidence.

2023 was also her first year on Head skis, switching after ten years with Atomic. Excellent first season on new gear! I wonder if Head sensed Hilzinger’s on the move and made a nice offer. The major equipment brands don’t court losers. Or perhaps Atomic didn’t counter since they have Shiffrin and Goggia amongst other heavies. In any event, Head will treat Jess well. She’s attractively placed: now 26, she’ll be hitting prime years after three seasons to wire the boots and boards. If EOS SL T10 is her standard when the 2026 Olympics roll around, Hilzinger will join Weidle as Germany’s marque athletes. For both racers, the 2025 Worlds will be an important big-race nerves test. Especially for Jess, since a good showing will make her an Olympic contender and discussed for the next year.

Giant Slalom is the elephant in Jessica and her coaches’ room. She’s had decent EC results— 2021 was mostly outstanding. WAWC’s GS starts yield not a single point. She’ll get there, though. In the 2023 races I watched she’s strong and aggressive, fully engaging the top-level tracks. She had a fine 1st run going at Sestriere but took a nasty twisty fall when her left ski hooked a gate. She didn’t miss a start—I’m not sure how. It definitely hurt, a lot.

Plenty of time to keep at it. GS is probably the most competitive Discipline, which is why establishing herself as a consistent T20/25 contender would so lift her profile and benefit the team.

Let’s get a bit technical. How much time must Hilzinger drop to turn SL 2xT10 into 2xT5? What circumstances? Her final 2023 race, at Soldeu, is open/closed: 22nd/last after 1st run, a massive 3.09 behind leader Petra, Jess put down the 2nd run’s best time (+0.86 on PV), and wound up 6th. Even if her total time had been a half-second less, she’d have picked up just one position. Two good runs are vital. In this race, 1st on Tech 2nd run is a consolation, insofar as the track’s unrutted. But the racer needs to hit it/take advantage. Hilzinger did. Racers who do this once will repeat.

10 January 2023 Flachau, Austria. Putting down the 12th and 13th best runs took 8th place. Middling but consistent. Just one racer slower on 1st run overtook her on the 2nd. As for time, 0.10 faster per run and she finishes 6th. There’s a 0.50 gulf between there and 5th, however. So on top form T7ish is her territory. Excellent.

I think Jess is a shoo-in for EOS SL T15 because her finishes will all be T20. Eliminate 2xDNFs, make 4xT10, and T12 is there. She’ll persist at GS, qualifying for/finishing both runs, with some T25s. Germany has a rising star.




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