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(FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2012 file photo Lindsey Vonn, of the United States, speeds down the course on her way to win an alpine ski, women's World Cup super-G, in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Lindsey Vonn is feeling better and has returned to Europe and started training again as she prepares to return to the World Cup circuit this month after an unscheduled midseason break. Rainer Salzgeber, the racing director of Vonn's equipment supplier Head, tells The Associated Press) that the four-time overall winner arrived in Austria on Wednesday and began light training on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. Salzgeber says Vonn is planning to start racing again in the downhill and super-G in St. Anton, Austria, on Jan. 12-13. (AP Photo/Marco Trovati, Files)
Olympics: No Linsdsey Vonn, but U.S. ski team still has star power

Ligety, Shiffrin, Mancuso should all contend for medals — and spotlight.

First Published Jan 25 2014 10:35 am • Last Updated Mar 24 2014 11:35 pm

The U.S. Ski Team — heck, the entire U.S. Olympic Team — might have been robbed of its biggest marquee star for the upcoming 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia when Lindsey Vonn announced recently that she won’t be healthy enough to compete.

But that might just throw the doors of opportunity wide open for others.

At a glance

Olympic alpine skiing schedule

NBC Sports plans to stream every event at the Sochi Olympics live online for the first time, so hard-core fans can watch the U.S. Ski Team in action:

Feb. 9 »  Men’s downhill, midnight

Feb. 10 » Women’s super-combined, midnight

Feb. 12 » Women’s downhill, midnight

Feb. 14 » Men’s super-combined, midnight

Feb. 15 » Women’s super-G, midnight

Feb. 16 » Men’s super-G, midnight

Feb. 18 »  Women’s giant slalom, midnight

Feb. 19 »  Men’s giant slalom, midnight

Feb. 21 »  Women’s slalom, 5:45 a.m.

Feb. 22 » Men’s slalom, 5:45 a.m.

All times mountain

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While nobody can match Vonn’s megawatt combination of staggering athletic talent, red-carpet good looks and gossip-page personal life, the Park City-based ski team does have a few other Alpine stars who could fill the void with strong performances and perhaps vault themselves into starring roles in NBC Sports’ presentation of the Olympics in the United States.

Top of the list, perhaps?

Park City’s Ted Ligety.

Long overshadowed by others, the mild-mannered but fun-loving 29-year-old is an Olympic champion who has done something that even Vonn has never done — win three gold medals at the world championships.

Ligety achieved that historic feat last spring, becoming the first man to do it since legendary Jean-Claude Killy of France in 1968. Although Ligety began his career as a giant-slalom specialist, he has evolved into an all-event skier, and is a medal threat in everything but the downhill.

The big question is whether he can put it all together in all those events, again.

Ligety had never won a World Cup or world championship race in any discipline other than giant slalom before his feat at the worlds in Schladming, Austria, where he won the giant slalom, super-combined and super-G.

But Ligety did win a World Cup super-combined last weekend in Switzerland, delivering his first trip to the podium in a non-giant slalom discipline in more than four years.

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"This is definitely a big victory for me," he said. "It’s a nice little confidence boost and step in the right direction for getting ready for Sochi."

Ligety has said he believes that skiing well during the World Cup season is the best preparation for a strong Olympics, but he probably hasn’t enjoyed quite as strong a season as he would prefer.

By this time last year, he had four gold medals and a bronze on the World Cup circuit. He had three golds this season, heading into a four-event World Cup stop this weekend in Kitzbuhel, Austria, and sits fourth in the overall World Cup standings after finishing third last season.

Still, he’s totally capable — and another lightning-in-a-bottle performance could make him the household name he probably deserves to be.

After all, NBC Sports reached more than 190 million people with its coverage of the 2010 Vancouver Games — a disappointing and medal-less one, for Ligety — and its chief executive has called the Olympics the "soul" of the network. It will adjust, even though it had spent months and millions incorporating Vonn into their marketing of the Games.

"There’s plenty of stars out there," Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports Group, told to the Washington Post. "Yes, we wish we still had Lindsey there, but we don’t. That’s the nature of sports; lots of stars unfortunately get injured and hurt."

The knee injury that will keep Vonn out of the Olympics seemed to hit the women’s side of the ski team especially hard.

Without her, the speed skiers had been struggling until seeing some positive signs at the World Cup stop last weekend in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.

Three-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso cracked the top 10 for the first time all season with a seventh-place finish in a super-G on Thursday, followed by a ninth in a downhill on Friday, while teammate Stacey Cook finished ninth in the super-G and a season-best fifth in the downhill.

That was Cook’s best finish since her only two World Cup podiums in 2012, and there were two more races scheduled over the weekend.

"I’m getting there, just in time for the Olympics," Mancuso said.

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