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Lindsey Vonn, Ted Ligety leading World Cup standings

By Pat Graham

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 21 2010 5:39 p.m. MST

Sometimes, even the best in the business need a little inspiration before a big race.

Prior to her competition last weekend, three-time World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn tuned in to a men's race, hoping to draw motivation from watching Ted Ligety.

Ligety attacked the hill and captured the giant slalom in Alta Badia, Italy. Instantly inspired, Vonn followed suit, winning the super-combined in Val d'Isere, France.

It's been that kind of season for the U.S. skiers.

After a stellar showing at the Vancouver Olympics last winter, hauling in a team-record eight medals, the Americans are still riding the momentum, with Ligety and Vonn currently leading the overall World Cup standings.

The U.S. team's performance has become the chatter on the slopes.

"I think there's a lot of people that are very impressed with what we're doing and there's a lot of people talking about the strength of our team and the dominance right now that we have," Vonn said. "It's so motivating and inspiring and makes you want to keep skiing fast."

The fact Vonn is skiing this well hardly comes as a surprise. She's the gold standard in the sport and has picked up right where she left off in Vancouver when she won the downhill and took bronze in the super-G — on a badly bruised right shin, no less.

Ligety's rise to the top of the standings does come as a surprise. He's known more as a technical skier but has diligently worked on improving his speed. His extra attention to the downhill appears to be spilling over as he's flying through even the tightest of giant slalom courses.

The 26-year-old from Park City, Utah, won his third straight World Cup giant slalom race last weekend.

Can he retain his overall lead all season?

"It's a tall task," said Ligety, who won gold in the combined at the 2006 Turin Games.

Vonn and Ligety are far from the only Americans making an early impression on the slopes this season.

Julia Mancuso, winner of two silver medals in Vancouver, has been skiing solid and is sixth in the overall standings. Even more, there's been a bevy of up-and-coming women's skiers consistently placing in the top 30. Alice McKennis, 21, recently took 11th during a downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta.

"They're all on a great track right now, and they're all showing a lot of potential," said Vonn, who lives and trains in Vail, Colo. "We try to work as a team and feed off of each other and learn from each other. That's why we're able to have the success we're having right now."

On the men's side, Bode Miller has started off slowly, with just one top-10 finish so far this season. This after winning gold, silver and bronze in Vancouver to run his career total to five Winter Games medals.

However, there's an influx of youth waiting in the wings, skiers such as Travis Ganong, the 22-year-old out of Squaw Valley, Calif., who recently finished 20th at a super-G in Lake Louise.

It's been quite a showing for the Americans this season in the traditionally European-dominated sport.

As for garnering more respect, Ligety said that was attained years ago through skiers such as Miller and Daron Rahlves.

"We used to be able to train with the Austrians, but they don't let us do that anymore because they know we can beat them," Ligety said. "I guess that's respect in a way.

"Over the last few years, we've definitely gained more respect in the ski racing world."

For both Vonn and Ligety, the early season success can be directly attributed to a strong fitness program.

Vonn took the opportunity over the summer to revamp her entire routine, overhauling her training and her diet.

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