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Tech 2024 Pre-Season -- Three In Their Prime.

One of the ski racing vocabulary terms I’ve learned is “prime years.” Whether by objective/scientific determination or because people say so, WAWC athletes aged 28-32 are figured to be the best they ever will be. This era is ideally expressed as an unwavering peak performance. At the least, earlier promise has achieved a solid competitive level which improves each season until reaching apogee, easing for a season or two, then the ol’ gal’s put out to pasture.

Injury, obviously, disrupts performance arcs. So does over-work during FIS, Continental Cup, and early WAWC seasons, especially when starts pile up in a discipline(s) the racer’s less suited for. Whatever the reason a 29-year-old athlete finds herself gunning for significant improvement, gun she must. A 27-year-old may be licking her chops for promotion.

I won’t descend into a physiological marmot den. For this discussion we’ll accept that folks in their late twenties should be on the stick. Categorization, whether justified or not, helps to define these Features at any rate. I chose these three competitors for their progressively improving records, peak potential, and importance to their teams.

Ana Bucik

Ana’s a racer I recognized from my cursory attention to WAWC before the obsession. A Slovenian, her name sounded strong to me and suggested authority. Not sure what that signifies, but she’s riding three consecutive seasons of dramatically-improving Tech. Turned 30 a week ago (21 July), she began her prime on-schedule and with a bang. Let’s have a look.

WAWC – EOS 2020 thorough 2023 seasons. Best consecutive WC years. Tech starts exclusively.

2023 – Overall 21st

SL 8th – 11 starts – 6xT10; 2xT15; 22nd; 2xDNF.

GS 14th – 10 starts – 2xT10; 5xT20; 23d; 2xDNF.

2022 – Overall 25th

SL 6th – 9 starts – 5xT10; 3xT15; 21st.

GS 23d – 9 starts – 9th; 5xT20; 3xDNF/Q.

2021 – Overall 33d

SL 14th – 9 starts – 2xT10; 4xT20; 25th; 2xDNF/Q.

GS 21st – 8 starts – 3xT10; 3xT30; 2xDNF/Q.

2020 – Overall 55th

SL 30th – 6 starts – 2xT20; 19th; 3xDNQ.

GS 26th – 6 starts – 14th; 4xT30; DNQ.

2020 European Cup – Overall 18th.

SL 32nd -- 2 starts – 3d; DNF.

GS 10th – 3 starts – 2nd; 3d; 8th.

2022 OlympicsSL 11th GS 11th. Good job.

2023 World ChampionshipsSL 9th Yeah!

National Championships – 14 meets 2009-2023 Hung it out on Speed. Wow.

SL – 18 starts – 2x1st; 3x2nd; 3d; 6xT10; 18th; 5xDNF

GS – 19 starts – 3x2nd; 3d; 6xT10; 6xT20; 36th; DNF; DNS2

SG – 11 starts – 2nd; 6xT10; 2xT20; 23d; DNF

DH – 9 starts – 3d; 5xT10; 18th; 25; DNS2

153 total WC starts. 111 total European Cup starts.

Very impressive, improving WC SL rank by half in a season, and basically GS too. Considering that Shiffrin and Vlhova dominate WAWC Slalom’s current/recent EOS top standings—with a few others trading podium spots--finishing 6th and 8th in the past two seasons is excellent work. Particularly without a podium. Let’s get micro and see how Bucik, a strong second-tier SL competitor, scored EOS 6th in 2022 with 1x4th best finish.

I’ll compare Ana’s rank with the two racers who finished behind and ahead of her—Michelle Gisin and Wendy Holdener. Gisin (turning 30 in Dec. 2023) is a big cheese, IMO 3d/4th best Overall (on a comeback) after Shiffrin, Gut-Behrami, and recently Brignone. Holdener (turned 30 May 2023), has career SL 2x1st and 32 2nd/3d split evenly. She finished 2nd Overall in 2018, owed mostly to SL 2nd; GS 8th. She’s one of WAWC’s best Tech skiers ever.

Ana’s 2022 point total 277; Wendy 343; Michelle 247. Ana split two major stars.

Ana’s line score again for reference. 2022 SL EOS 6th – 9 starts – 5xT10 (4th BF); 3xT15; 21st.

Nine Slaloms were run in 2022; Ana scored points in all of them. A tie for 21st at Lienz, 2.31 (seconds) behind the winner, was her only result outside T15. Michelle started nine—2x3d; 3xT10 (5th BF); 11th; 3xDNF. The DNFs hosed Michelle. If instead she’d had say 3x8th for 96 more points (343), 14 off Holdener, she’d be EOS 5th if Wendy had dropped one T5 position. Even 2xT15 (32 points) would have put her ahead of Ana. Anything except injury is better than a DNF.

This isn’t news. But it reinforces how consistently getting down the track pays off. Indeed, the 8th, 9th, and 10th EOS SL racers--at most 40 points behind Ana--one with a win and another with multiple podiums, all had DNFs. Substitute 1x5th or 2x12th and 10th finishes 6th. Putting it bluntly, superior talent can finish EOS behind lesser talent, via one bad race.

More revealing is Ana vis-a-vis Wendy Holdener, who finished 2022 SL a sturdy 80 points ahead. Wendy, too, entered all 9 Slaloms, but Did Not Start (DNS) the penultimate race at Are, Sweden. (Couldn’t find out why.) DNF2 at the previous race (Schladming) gave her 7 finishes. She didn’t have a win; just two of her finishes were better than Ana’s 4th. Behold WAWC’s insanely thin margins. Recall the 2.31 second 21st place deficit italicized above.

2022 SL season Slalom results – Bucik vs Holdener. (Races 1-6 and 9)

Bucik 11th – 1:48:25 Holdener 7th – 1:47:69 WH + 0.56 (Levi, FIN 20 Nov)

Bucik 7th – 1:46:68 Holdener 4th – 1:46:19 WH + 0.49 (Levi, FIN 21 Nov)

Bucik 12th – 1:40:97 Holdener 3d – 1:39:16 WH + 1.81 (Killington, USA 28 Nov)

Bucik 21st – 1:44:41 Holdener 5th – 1:43:14 WH + 1.27 (Lienz, AUT 29 Dec)

Bucik 8th -- 2:00.25 Holdener 4th – 1:59:35 WH + 0.90 (Zagreb, CRO 4 Jan)

Bucik 5th -- 1:45:94 Holdener 2nd - 1:44:52 WH + 1.42 (Kranjska Gora, SLO 9 Jan)

Bucik 4th – 1:37:58 Holdener 7th – 1:37:86 WH – 0.28 (Courchevel, FRA 19 March)

Bucik net 6.17 seconds behind Holdener over these 7 races. 6.45 behind first 6.

Bucik average 1.08 seconds slower per race for first 6 races.

Let’s consider the 7th and 8th races Holdener did not complete/score points.

Bucik 12th – 1:34:54 22 points (Schladming, AUT 11 Jan)

Bucik 7th – 1:46:90 36 points (Are, SWE 12 March)

Now consider the 2.31 seconds Bucik finished behind the winner at Lienz. If Ana had been 1.6 seconds faster (half of 2.31) in the 7th and 8th races, she would have finished 3d at Schladming for a net gain of 38 points, and won handily at Are for net gain 64 pts. These 102 pts would have given Ana 379 Slalom pts for the 2022 season and EOS SL 5th, just 13 pts behind 4th.

I picked this 2.31-second deficit as a somewhat arbitrary but relevant span affecting Ana’s 2022 SL season. For 2.31 seconds to divide 1st and 21st in any sport sounds implausible, but in elite ski racing it’s an unsurprising margin. In fact, the 102 theoretical points Ana gained would have vaulted her EOS Overall rank to 17th from 25th.

If you’re still with me, hang in for another minute. Improving a Slalom finish time by 1.6 seconds is very unlikely, except for a wretched run. So let’s see how Ana fares if those 2.31 seconds are divided by 3 (0.77) and applied to her 21st place as well as to the 12th and 7th.

6th at Schladming for a net gain of 18 points; still 1st at Are for net 64, and she’s taken Holdener for EOS 5th. Shaving 0.77 off an SL is feasible for Ana. That’s how close she was to beating Wendy. AFWIW, cutting 0.77 from Lienz would be good for 10th, net 16.

Ana’s not suffered a serious injury, AFAICT. So I’ll venture she’s on her talent’s innate trajectory—question is, where’s her peak? One’s peak performance, of course, won’t deliver top results if your competition’s still better than you. In Bucik’s case, I think EOS SL T6 was her high point. Possible injuries during 2024 season and later not withstanding, SL has several mature/peaking racers who will beat her, and at least as many young people prying open the EOS T10 gate. Reclaiming 6th would make 2024 excellent. Ana’s having a solid WAWC career; she should be able to hang out SL T10/12 for a couple more years, and keep thumping GS.

Paula Moltzan

“The journey’s more important than the destination.” Certainly true for most rock climbs, where the end is rappel/lowering rings and down you go. And process produces the knowledge or satisfaction we feel achieving a goal. But I’m not sure Paula Moltzan’s fully on board with this cliché.

Paula’s 2023 season was one of the best an American ski racer has ever had, IMO. EOS SL 7th and GS 11th are solid; her journey to post them describes elite (and sub-elite) ski racing’s grind to a T. In a nutshell, after 4 full Nor-Am campaigns with okay results 2010-13, she started 14 SL 2015-16, going 25th; 5xDNF; 8xDNQ. (Did Not Qualify means 1st run wasn’t within T30, so no decisive 2nd run for points.) Paula ran excellent Nor-Am concurrently these two years, but the WAWC beat-down must have stung. So 2017-18 was exclusively Nor-Am, I’m sure to build confidence as well as to hone chops. Went WAWC full 2-Discipline in 2021 and hasn’t looked back.

WAWC – EOS 2021 through 2023 seasons. Best consecutive WC years. Tech starts exclusively.

2023 Overall 15th

SL 7th – 11 starts – 2nd; 5xT10; 16th; 4xDNF/Q. (3 DNFs first three races)

GS 11th – 10 starts – 5xT10; 4xT20; DNF.

2022 Overall 39th

SL 19th – 9 starts – 7th; 5xT20; 24th; 2xDNF

GS 22nd – 9 starts –10th; 3xT20; 4xT30; DNF

2021 Overall 21st

SL 11th – 9 starts – 4xT10; 2xT20; 23d; 2xDNQ

GS 27th – 5 starts – 10th; 19th; 3xDNF/Q

86 WC total starts. 2 podiums

WC 2020-

25 European Cup starts. 1x1st; 1x3d

Nor-Am was Paula’s sweatshop. Tech results <T30&DNF shown here; she hit SG too, early on. 2010-2016 consolidated; I’m going cross-eyed breaking down the seasons. Is there an Excel widget for this?

2010-2016 Nor-Am – 2014-16 all podiums. DNFs – 5x2014; 2x2016. Rest 2010-13.

2015 SL bitchin’ season: 3x1st from 6 starts.

SL – 40 starts – 4x1st; 2nd; 2x3d; 8xT10; 4xT20; 5xT30; 16xDNF

GS – 36 starts – 1st; 2x2nd; 3d; 6xT10; 9xT20; 4xT30; 12xDNF; DNQ

Nor-Am 2017 through 2020 seasons.

2017 SL – 8 starts – 1st; 2nd; 4th; 5xDNF. GS – 8 starts – 1st; 2nd; 4th; 2xT20; 24th; 2xDNF

2018 SL – 5 starts – 1st; 2nd; 3d; 2xT10. GS – 4 starts – 2nd; 2xT10; 27th.

2019 SL No Nor-Am; 6 WC starts - 4xT20; 2xDNF. GS – 2 starts – 2xT10. No WC GS starts.

Not sure what deal was 2019. 7 University starts, which I assume are NCAA events. University starts sprinkled throughout Paula’s Nor-Am years, and I imagine for all USA collegiate athletes. I haven’t tracked these.

2020 SL - 2 starts – 3d; 5th. GS – 2 starts – 3d; 11th.

2022 Olympics – SL 8th; GS 12th. Nice.

2023 World Championships1st Team Parallel. Broke hand/wrist for third time; took it for the team.

National Championships. 11 meets 2010-2023.

SL – 11 starts – 2x1st; 2x2nd; 3xT10; 27th; 3xDNF/Q

GS – 11 starts – 1st; 2x2nd; 2x5th; 6xDNF/Q

Moltzan’s WAWC SL results improved dramatically beginning 2021 when she added GS to her calendar. I’ll venture that’s because more races = happier racer. Solid Nor-Am GS surely prompted this. Paula developed WAWC chops via the NCAA pipeline, as did several other current USA team members. Seems like a good tactic, since you’ll have a B.A. if pro racing doesn’t pan out. Most other USA WC racers rose in private secondary schools—eg. Rowmark (Utah), Burke and Stratton (Vermont)—offering one (compulsory?) extracurricular activity.

By my count, Paula’s started 107 Nor-Am Tech races, plus I’d guess another 30 or so Speed. Add 86 WAWC total starts (per, augmenting my Tech count), 25 European Cup races, 22 U.S. National Championship starts, 43 University/NCAA and 98 FIS-level races (per my count via, and God knows what else, and the woman’s run at least 411 formally organized/sanctioned ski races between 2010 and last March. Average 32 races a year. This is probably par for the course for anyone who’s around 30 and on her national team. (3/4-Discipline competitors add 8/16 starts a year.)

Paula’s WAWC career gained traction in the 2021 season, right after which she turned 27. So she wasn’t a wunderkind, but certainly hasn’t lagged. She’s ground it out, progressing steadily to EOS SL 7th last season…without a win and with 4xDNF/Qs! Talk about an open door for EOS T5. Swap out 3 DNFs for 2x8th and a 6th—those 104 additional points would have taken EOS 6th, 69 pts behind 5th’s 470. We see how tough it is to advance within WAWC’s upper rankings. But say the 4th DNF had been another 8th and the final race’s 16th a 10th. There’s more 58 pts and she’s right there for EOS 5th.

That’s where I think Paula can peak: EOS SL 5th. That’s not pessimistic, by any measure. 2023’s EOS SL 1-4 ranking—Shiffrin, Holdener, Vlhova, Duerr—is exceptional. (Duerr, IMO, is under-appreciated/acknowledged. We’ll be giving her a close look.) With Liensberger and Gisin firing back up, and a few mid-twenties hot dogs accelerating (not sure how that’s done), 2024 SL is gonna be a melee. Re GS, convert those 4xT20 to 4x10th for net 47-point improvement and drop the DNF for an 8th’s 32 pts…and it’s EOS 10th instead of 11th. Yeah, GS is a ghastly ruckus. EOS 9th may be doable. Holding 11th would be good work.

Paula Moltzan’s the toughest of the bunch, I bet, when it gets to brass tacks. She’s paid the heavy starting dues; she'll persevere. AFAIK, she hasn’t had a serious knee/leg injury. (I must say, breaking your hand/wrist twice within six months is a singular ability. The ski pole duct-taped to her glove is a WAWC holy icon.) Paula has momentum--trajectory fixed, controls set. Her journey’s been thorough and hard. The best part’s unwinding now, because the destination’s close and much sweeter.

Laurence St-Germain

As dependable as they come, Laurence St-Germaine has run a steady, if middling, WAWC SL career. I found no mention of serious injury/races missed due to tweaked knee, etc. Her talent’s plenty to retain an A-team spot but podiums are elusive.

Then she won the 2023 World Championships gold medal February at Courchevel Méribel, France. She took it to primo big guns, too. From 3d place 1st run, Laurence gained 1.18 seconds on Shiffrin—0.61 behind to 0.57 ahead—while Holdener biffed run 2 from 1st run 2nd position. Duerr, Holtmann, Vlhova—the fancy people didn't hack it.

With all respect, they were running against a veteran.

St-Germain core career results.

World Cup EOS – 2018 through 2023 seasons. SL specialist; EOS SL rankings only.

2023 16th – 11 starts -- 3xT10; 2xT20; 2xT30; 4xDNF/Q

2022 15th – 9 starts – 2xT10; 4xT20; 22nd; 2xDNF

2021 8th – 9 starts – 4xT10; 4xT20; 21st

2020 18th – 6 starts – 2xT10; 11th; 3xDNF

2019 13th – 8 starts – 10th; 6xT20; DNF

2018 33d – 8 starts – 2xT20; 28th; 5xDNF/Q

Nor-Am Cup EOS – 2015 through 2018 seasons. Per above, SL rankings only. Middling GS results.

2018 3d – 4 starts – 2x1st; 2nd; 5th

2017 2nd – 5 starts – 2nd; 2x3d; 2xT10

2016 2nd – 6 starts – 1st; 3x2nd; 4th; DNF

2015 4th – 8 starts – 2x2nd; 2xT10; 2xT20; 27th & 35th – 1st two races

2023 World Championships1st Slalom!

National Championships 8 meets 2012 – 2021. Tech results only; ran a few Speed.

SL – 8 starts – 1st; 2x3d; 2xT10; 25th; 2xDNF

GS – 6 starts – 3d; 2xT10; 19th; 2xDNF

When feeling hubristic enough to predict race results, I give heavy weight to who I think is due. I knew Corinne Suter was due for a big race; her Beijing DH gold was a shoo-in, man. (Since Breezy wasn’t there. :( ) Seriously, consistent top runners rarely swoon when they’re healthy. They may falter for a few races, but then return to form. (One big exception, which I’ll address later this summer.) Thing is, was Laurence on the radar for being due? Of the Canadians, I figured Ali Nullmeyer for a big day. (She had the 7th best 2nd run, after Laurence’s 6th, finishing 12th.) If you tag chance to experience, though, St-Germain was overdue.

So what of 2024? I don’t sense a break-out; her record doesn’t indicate/predict one. 2021’s 8th was a fine campaign because there were no DNFs. The Worlds gold proves her talent. To reinhabit EOS SL T10, Laurence must finish at least 8 of 10 races or drop this much time.

St-Germain 2023 season Slalom – 4 best finishes (of 7 total). What improvement in these races would have placed her EOS 10th instead of 16th, even with 4xDNF/Q?

Position and total/finishing time for 2 runs. (Time in minutes, seconds, hundredths of seconds)

5th – 1:43:36 45 points. 1 second faster = 3d – 60 pts. +15 pts EOS (Are, SWE 11 March)

7th – 1:32:53 36 pts. 1 second faster = 4th – 50 pts. +14 pts EOS. (Spindleruv Mlyn, CZE 29 Jan)

9th – 1:54:22 29 pts. 1 second faster = 5th – 45 pts. +16 pts EOS (Levi, FIN 20 Nov)

14th – 1:39:99 18 pts. 1 second faster = 6th – 40 pts. +22 pts EOS (Zagreb, CRO 4 Jan)

A one-second improvement is significant—many would say unrealistic to expect/sustain--in any WAWC event, but significant improvement is required here to make an EOS difference. Laurence placed 16th on 158 pts. The 67 points these hypothetical 4 seconds add take her to 225--11th by 3 pts. I didn’t subtract points from racers who lost them in this phantom exercise, so perhaps 10th would have been achieved. Point is, DNFs are ruinous; more to the point, this sport’s margins are ridiculously narrow. Plumbing these stats has me trying to bite my elbow.

Laurence, please release my contortion. Substitute 2xDNF for 2x9th and you’re knocking on EOS T10. Then flash those Worlds chops a couple times, and T8’s back in the bag.


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