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Rocky mountain high for alpine team

Paul Robbins, Special to the Record

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – "Hi honey – Happy birthday. I got you another podium. And we can cover the TiVo payment this month."

Well, perhaps the phone call from Lake Louise didn’t go quite like that, but 2002 Olympian Thomas Vonn celebrated his 31st birthday Sunday and longtime gal pal Lindsey Kildow bagged her third podium of the weekend. Kildow, who bought a place in Park City during the summer with Vonn, was second Friday in downhill, all-conquering Saturday in DH-2 and second Sunday in a super-G. Her weekend paycheck is nicely north of $60,000 plus whatever her sponsors kick in – and that was only the third weekend of the winter!

Meanwhile, in this part of the Rockies, the U.S. Ski Team alpine men’s squad passed out a few smiles, too. Not quite as successful as Kildow’s sortie through the Canadian Rockies, but a good indication of the growing depth of the Ski Team.

Friday in downhill at the VISA Birds of Prey races, Bode Miller (another Park City homeowner) earned the 22nd World Cup win of his career (and first DH victory in two years) with ex-Park City Ski Team racer Steve Nyman in third. Adding to the fun was the fact Scott Macartney and Marco Sullivan made it four Yanks in the top 10, a U.S. first for a World Cup downhill.

Saturday, Parkite Ted Ligety stormed the giant slalom podium – not bad for an athlete who’s doing his best to (ahem) shred the erroneous "slalom specialist" label – as he finished third. "Absolutely," the easy-smiling racer said when asked if his new goggles line, Shred (a play off his nickname, "Ted Shred"), was faster than his old goggles.

Miller led the first run of the GS but didn’t finish the second run. Ligety told a press conference he was happy with his podium, but he wouldn’t have been disappointed if he’d been fourth with his teammate winning. "Fourth isn’t nearly as good as third place, but as long as we’re getting a ‘W’ [win], it’s okay," he said.

Sunday, it was one of those "some days peanuts, some days peanut shells" ("some days the elevator, some days the shaft") ("some days you’re the pigeon, some days you’re the statue") days. Ligety was second in the first run of slalom in 15-degree weather, but he went off-course early in his second run and the only American to score points (i.e., top 30) was Jimmy Cochran in 22nd place in a race where 39 skiers – eight in the final run – went out.

Unhappy with his skiing, Cochran nonetheless was amped that he got to race Sunday with cousins Roger Brown and Tim Kelley, a small footnote in U.S. racing history because it marked the first three "Skiing Cochrans" competing in a World Cup race. In the 1974 season, three of the original Cochrans – Lindy (mother of Tim and B Team athlete Jessica Kelley), Marilyn (Roger’s mom and the first U.S. World Cup champion after capturing the 1969 GS title) and Barbara Ann (the 1972 Olympic slalom gold medalist) – competed together and joined brother Bob (Jimmy’s dad) on the ’74 World Championships Team.

"No question, this was pretty special. I hope we get to do it some more," Cochran said before heading to Europe for a men’s super combined event Sunday in Reiteralm, Austria, the "super combi" which was to have been held in snowless Val d’Isere, France – and which, for financial reasons handcuffed the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, couldn’t be shifted to Colorado. (Kelley told The New York Times when Jimmy and Roger were his "idols" as a young racer, and when they would come up to Cochran’s Ski Area – Jimmy from Keene, N.H., and Roger from Worcester, Mass., – to ski on weekends, he couldn’t sleep the night before they arrived because he was so excited about their visit.)

On a less historic note, it marked the first time since Beaver Creek hung out the OPEN sign for World Cup racing early in the 1998 Olympic season that no Austrian was a winner on the steep Birds of Prey run. No gloating by the Americans, but there were no tears, either.

"It’s always good to get some confirmation that your skiing is as good as you think it is, and we got some of that confirmation this week," Head Coach Phil McNichol said. "The guys are getting there…and we’ll have more success, but this was a good step forward. Beaver Creek’s always good for us…and it’s always tough to leave.

"But, once again, we leave with good results and some momentum going for us," he added.

Meanwhile, to the north, the just-turned-22 Kildow won a downhill in Lake Louise for the third straight season, giving her five victories in her career, and she’s got 16 top-threes.

"There’s a comfort zone for me. I’ve skied here five or six years, and I know the mountain like the back of my hand," Kildow explained. And that wicked crash which she took early in the 2003 season, keeping her off the ’03 Worlds team, is ancient history ("That was a long time ago and I don’t think about it now," she said), so she devours the course almost routinely.

Kildow was back in Park City this week waiting for a midweek decision on whether the women will return to Europe – Reiteralm can’t be the only place with snow – or whether she’ll return to Canada next week for NorAm races at Panorama, B.C.


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