The U.S. Ski Team is smokin’
Oh, man. Talk about early Christmas presents and all, what’s the U.S. alpine troupe gonna do for an encore after a sizzling six days of World Cup racing that produced an unrivaled record of success?
By the numbers: nine top-3s in seven races over six days…five U.S. victories, including the first for Winter Sports School alum Julia Mancuso, the Olympic giant slalom gold medal-winner, and Park City Ski Team dominator Steve Nyman…podiums in four disciplines…a podium in four races over four straight days for the U.S. men…five skiers contributing, not just Bode Miller getting white hot and somebody else – Daron Rahlves, where are you? – tacking on a podium or two…and as they went into the holiday break, three U.S. men were in the top 10 overall – Miller in second, Ted Ligety in sixth and Nyman 10th; for the women, Kildow was fourth and Mancuso seventh.
But, to keep things in perspective, although their men’s pack hadn’t won in a dozen races – an almost unheard of slump in recent years, the Austrians, with their overwhelming depth, still were well in front in the Nations Cup points. The Yanks were No. 2. Again.
Still, that’s impressive for the Americans. The skiers are savoring some downtime over the weekend, but they’ll be back at it Tuesday – the men heading to Bormio, Italy, for two downhills Dec. 28-29 while the women compete on the same days, running giant slalom and slalom in Semmering, Austria.
"The athletes are feeding off each other now; when you’re going 80 miles an hour [during stretches of a downhill], you need to have confidence and you need to believe," said U.S. alpine chief Jesse Hunt.
And his athletes were singing the same tune: "We’re feeding off each other," said Lindsey Kildow, who collected the sixth win of her career Wednesday in a downhill in Val d’Isere, France, with Mancuso second; the previous day, Mancuso had snatched the first win of her career with Kildow in third in another downhill. "I think we’re all feeding off each other’s success," she said.
Adding to the tale is the fact Kildow and Mancuso were sick a week ago, battling stomach flu in Reiteralm, Austria. Kildow didn’t race Friday because she couldn’t keep any good in her stomach and was too sick to finish a super-G the next day. Added Mancuso, "Well, I wasn’t puking, but I wasn’t feeling too well. I think i got it from Lindsey on Friday."
A look-back at the historic streak, which ended Thursday when Miller was fourth in a giant slalom in Hinterstoder, Austria, while Stiegler as sixth in a slalom in Val d’Isere:
Wednesday – Kinda like the old Batman TV series: you almost could see the words – Pow! Biff! Socko! Bam! – in the air as Miller won the men’s super-G in Hinterstoder about 90 minutes after Kildow had won in Val d’Isere and Mancuso was second in that DH.
Miller, who moved to the top of the points in both super-G and overall (although he dropped back to second Thursday), said he gave it "full power" out of the start but he wasn’t tickled with his skiing.
"I can be pleased with my placing but the run was not very good at all. I controlled the parts I can control pretty well – I had good power, good flow out of the start," he said, "but as soon as I got on the pitch, [I made] a few miscalculations and a few turns didn’t come around for me as I hoped.
"I hung on well and I made great recoveries, but the skiing was not my best at all." Miller’s winning time was 1:09.76 with Italy’s Peter Fill second (1:10.55). Parkite T.J. Lanning picked off the first World Cup points of his career, shook off any effect from a broken hand suffered in Beaver Creek, Colo., a couple of weeks earlier, to finish in a tie for 19th place.
A year ago, Kildow also won a downhill in Val d’Isere and not only earned a nice paycheck, but she was presented with a cow. When organizers tried to pay her – reportedly $1,200 – and retrieve the bovine, she said she won it and she was keeping it. So, while the cow (which recently delivered a calf, which Kildow named Sunny) is in Kirchberg, Austria, where the U.S. women have their European base, this time organizers presented race winners with a huge wheel of cheese and a fancy cow bell which is usually worn on special occasions by the four-leggers.
"They told me the cheese was from my cow, but I’m not so sure," Kildow said with a chuckle. She planned to distribute the cheese as holiday gifts.
She simply overwhelmed the downhill course, winning by more than a second over her teammate. Her time of 1:38.06 was a dazzling 1.24 seconds ahead of Mancuso’s 1:39.30.
"Today, I was on a mission," she said. Her victory, following another win and a podium in Canada earlier in the month, padded Kildow’s World Cup points lead in the downhill rankings.
"I knew where I needed to make some small changes [from the first DH] and I executed very well," she said. Mancuso said she had no problem with finishing second to the smokin’ run Kildow produced.
Tuesday – While the men traveled from Italy to Hinterstoder, the women raced the first of two downhills. Mancuso, healthy after her weekend bout with some bugs, tore out of the start and led at every timing split before finishing in 1:38.93, putting her .43 ahead of Austrian icon Renate Goetschl with Kildow clocked in 1:39.47.
Mancuso, who underwent hip surgery last April to repair chronic problems, credited a weekend phone call with ex-boyfriend – but still good friend – Nyman for inspiring her. She called to congratulate him on his win Saturday and he gave her some advice about letting things go…so she did when she got on course.
"For me," she said, "it’s kind of like I’m finally ‘there.’ It was tough in the beginning of the season. I was having a hard time racing, and even I didn’t win but I had a great result today, if I had a full run and felt super confident, hat would have been good. But," Mancuso said, "I nailed the top…" – and never was threatened.
Said Coach Alex Hoedlmoser, "It was like she had the devil on her back."
Monday – Swede Markus Larsson took advantage of a crash by first-run leader to win a slalom in 1:44.51 with Ligety writing some footnote to history as he clinched the fourth consecutive U.S. men’s podium in second place (1:44.70).
Team members expect Miller to be spectacular on occasion, Ligety said, but when Nyman and Sullivan step up to do well, it motivates others to push themselves harder.
Sunday – Finn Kalle Palander took charge in the first run of giant slalom and won in 2:28.82, by a half-second over Miller (2:29.33). Ligety had the third-fastest second run and jumped from 19th to seventh (2:29.87).
Saturday – The women struggled in Reiteralm again (Kaylin Richardson led the way in 13th place with Libby Ludlow 14th) but Nyman passed out some sunshine, barreling to his first triumph by a whisker in a downhill – holding off Swiss Didier Cuche by two-hundredths of a second. Winning time: 1:56.52l Olympic teammate Marco Sullivan, announcing his full-on return after two years of rehab from a knee injury, was fourth, a razor-thin one-hundredth away from what would have been his first podium while Miller was 14th.
"This is a great Christmas present," a beaming Nyman said as he made his way along the line of journalists in the finish, "because I don’t get to go home for Christmas…and to win on a course like this is awesome. It’s very demanding and even if I hadn’t, I had a great time coming down the hill. I knew I had a good run."
Friday – While the women raced super combined in Reiteralm, Austria, and Resi Stiegler – another Winter Sports School grad – had the best U.S. result in 11th place, Miller launched the parade of podiums. Calling it his best run all season, including training runs, he rocketed down a super G course in Val Gardena, Italy, and won in 1 minute, 32.35 seconds with Nyman tied for ninth.
"I had a good inspection [with Coach John McBride] and was confident all the way. I had a good line," Miller said. "I wasn’t as much on the edge as usual. I knew I had to ski the right line, and I got it."
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