SCHLADMING, Austria (AP) — With the season's World Cup discipline title already secured, defending champion Tina Maze will be the one to beat in the women's giant slalom at the Alpine skiing world championships.
The Slovenian, who is also likely to clinch the overall title, has dominated GS this year by winning the first four races. With two events left after the worlds, Maze holds an insurmountable lead over Austrian rivals Kathrin Zettel and Anna Fenninger.
Other medal candidates in Thursday's race include Olympic champion Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany and Julia Mancuso of the United States. Maze has won at least silver in GS at every major championships since 2009 — including the 2010 Vancouver Olympics — and is eager to earn more after taking gold in super-G and silver in super-combined at this year's worlds.
"Being able to get a medal in every event is something special," Maze said. "That's something everyone is dreaming of." Enjoying a standout season, Maze is feeling the pressure to peak at the worlds. Going into each race as a favorite is a weight on her shoulders.
Dealing with the all the expectations — and her own — is "the hardest part," Maze said. "It's not easy to stay calm." After Maze's four victories, two-time World Cup GS champion Rebensburg, Fenninger and Lindsey Vonn also managed to win a race.
Vonn beat Maze on her home soil in Maribor, Slovenia, in January, but the American has been ruled out for the season after knee surgery following her crash in the opening super-G race at the world championships last week.
Mancuso will be looking to add some more silverware to her collection, which is already the biggest by any American female skier. Mancuso won bronze in super-G last week for her eighth medal at major championships. She won the 2006 Olympic title but has failed to be on a GS podium at Olympics or worlds since.
However, Mancuso was hoping to benefit from the course preparation in Schladming, where the slope is harder and icier than at most venues on the women's circuit. "A lot of our races have been prepared a little softer," Mancuso said. "I've been better on ice, so I'm kind of happy that the snow will be hard."
Mancuso, who switched her equipment supplier in the offseason to join the likes of Bode Miller, Ted Ligety and Vonn at Head, has not yet found back her old strength in GS. Finishing sixth in Courchevel, France, in December has been her best result of the season. With the favorable conditions, Mancuso hoped to do better at the worlds.
"This season has been really good for me on hard snow," Mancuso said. "My best races are on ice. So I look forward to the hill. I think it could be a good challenge."