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Alpine team heads into new year happy

Paul Robbins, Special to the Record

The U.S. Ski Team’s alpine brigade heads into the new year with an armload – make that a Chevy truckload – of smiles and momentum.

No, the racers who set such a dazzling pace heading into Christmas with nine top-3s in six consecutive days of racing didn’t reclaim that scorching momentum this week. But no one doubts Bode Miller, Lindsey Kildow and Julia Mancuso, Steven Nyman and Ted Ligety – coincidentally, all with some linkage to Park City – still have the firepower to light things up as oh-seven gets underway.

While the men’s team bolted for the airport after Friday’s race, and most were flying home today, before the schedule resumes next weekend with a giant slalom and slalom in Adelboden, Switzerland, the women have a night slalom Thursday in Zagreb, Croatia, and then the customary GS/slalom twinbill next weekend in Maribor, Slovenia.

Said Jesse Hunt, U.S. alpine boss, the sizzling pre-Christmas results are no apparition. The racers are riding the confidence gained from the historic streak and will be heating things up again. They know they didn’t just catch lightning in a bottle…for six consecutive days.

"It’s a challenge to get going again, for sure, but the athletes want to keep that momentum going," according to Hunt.

It was speed racing for the gents with downhills Thursday and Friday in Bormio, Italy and gate-running for the gentles with a giant slalom Thursday and slalom Friday night (after presstime for the Record) in Semmering, Austria.

Friday in Bormio, Italy, Miller – who stands No. 2 in the overall points standings (and No. 1 in super-G) – overcame a slight bobble at the end of his run to finish fourth behind Michael Walchhofer, the long, tall Austrian who won both ends of the downhill doubleheader on Bormio’s Stelvio speed track. Walchhofer’s winning time was 1:51.82 with Miller down in 1:52.21; Marco Sullivan, continuing his re-emergence on the World Cup tour after missing two years with knee injuries, tied for 12th and Nyman, a Park City Ski Team grad, in 21st.

(Two years ago, Miller was the downhill gold medalist at the World Championships in Bormio with wing-man Daron Rahlves taking silver and Walchhofer the bronze medal-winner.)

Chris Brigham, the men’s speed head coach, was pleased as he got set to fly home today. Miller, who went out Thursday early in the opening DH in Bormio, clearly was back on track – he led at every timing split until the final pitch – while Nyman and Sullivan have him smiling.

"Marco’s finding his groove and confidence again," Brigham said, "so that’s kind of a bonus, and Steven is only in his second year on the World Cup, and this was his second time in Bormio. He’s got great speed and he’s learning."

Thursday, Walchhofer ended a bewildering 13-race victory drought for the Austrians as he won in 1:51.90. Top Yank was Sullivan in 13th place (1:53.11). A short time later, Mancuso – the Olympic giant slalom champion – nearly lit things up for the U.S. Ski Team in Semmering as she tore through an icy second run of GS with the fastest time to finish fourth behind another Austrian, Kathrin Zettel.

Zettel, the GS winner over Thanksgiving at the Sirius Satellite Radio Aspen Winternational, had a time of 2:09.50 to lead an Austrian podium sweep. Mancuso’s time was 2:09.82.

Mancuso, a Winter Sports School alum, wasn’t even bummed by the fact that even in producing the fastest second run, she couldn’t move up even one place in the final times. Fourth after the first run, she finished just off the podium.

"It’s sweet to know I won the second run. I’m really excited," she said.

She had been the first racer on course in the first run and, noting the icy conditions despite the sunshine, Mancuso conceded she had a little heartburn in the start and wasn’t as aggressive as she might have been.

"It’s pretty tough starting first in GS, especially when it’s this icy" she reasoned. "You don’t know what to expect, and you don’t get a course report" from a teammate who may have already run the course, so you’re really on your own.

"The first run I didn’t get my timing down. The second run, I focused more on being clean and smooth with my skiing. It was super icy and bumpy, so I’m psyched," she said.


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