U.S. alpine team flying into ’05 season
The men’s World Cup alpine tour makes its lone visit to the USA this week, dropping in on Beaver Creek, Colo., and the heralded Birds of Prey speed run, starting Thursday.
It’s a busy schedule. The VISA Birds of Prey races include super-G Thursday, downhill Friday (Bode Miller won with Daron Rahlves second and Parkite Bryon Friedman sixth a year ago), with giant slalom Saturday and the first slalom of the season on Sunday. Meanwhile, the women’s tour, which got an extra week off, returns to racing this week at Lake Louise with two downhills and a super-G before heading to Aspen Dec. 9-11 for the Sirius Satellite Radio Aspen Winternational.
After a month off following the one-off Oct. 23 men’s opener on the Rettenbach Glacier above Soelden, Austria, the men started the continuous racing of their calendar this past weekend in the Canadian Rockies, which were largely blanketed in clouds; the racers found flat light on the racecourse.
There were two bright lights in the midst of the overcast for the U.S. Ski Team – Rahlves, who hates Lake Louise and concedes he really looks to start his season every winter on Birds of Prey, shook off a miserable downhill 24 hours earlier and barreled his way into third place in the super-G Sunday. While Rahlves and Miller – and the rest of the Yanks – had their hands filled in the DH, Park City Ski Team product Steve Nyman showed less-than-zero anxiety about his first World Cup DH as he stormed into 14th place for the top U.S. result.
Saturday, Olympic champion Fritz Strobl picked up his first World Cup win since the ’02 season, posting a time of 1 minute, 40.96 seconds. Norwegian great Kjetil Andre Aamodt – in his final season – was second in 1:41.05 and Liechtensteiner Marco Buechel took third in 1:41.11. Nyman’s time was 1:41.01 with Miller – who extended his own record for consecutive race starts (now 117) – 22nd and Scott Macartney in 24th place.
Sunday, Aksel Lund Svindal, the emerging Norwegian talent who will help fill the gap after Aamodt and Lasse Kjus retire at the end of this season, collected his first World Cup victory. In the super-G where the top three were but eight-hundredths apart, Svindal was timed in 1:26.04 with Benni Raich of Austria second (1:26.11) and Rahlves in third place (1:26.12).
"It was great for ‘D’ [Rahlves] and Stevie Nyman and Scotty Mac," U.S. Head Coach Phil McNichol said, "but I thought we’d have better results for the weekend. Louise hasn’t usually been good to us, although Bode won both races here last year…and she wasn’t very kind this time, either.
"But we love Birds of Prey. The guys get jacked to race there and I’m sure we’ll see much better returns at Beaver Creek. The crowds are great, it’s a great hill and I know we’re going to see everyone up his game in Beaver Creek."
A recap of the Lake Louise weekend:
Sunday (super-G) – More flat light, more tricky racing, another down-on-his-hip run from Miller. The Canadian Rockies have not had great natural snow but the race organizers scraped and pulled snow onto the course and, according to DH/SG Head Coach John McBride, "did a sensational job for what they had to work with." The low snow meant the DH start was lowered and the flat light meant it was tough to pickup subtle changes in the snow and course rolls.
Svindal, a 6-foot-4 husky who added some weight during the summer, never had finished better than fifth in a super-G (he was fifth last season in both Val Gardena, Italy, and Kitzbuehel, Austria). But he looked like he owned the Lake Louise run, skiing almost flawlessly in the less-than-optimal conditions. Raich, who chased Miller all the way to World Cup Finals a year ago before Miller clinched the overall title, had one third-place SG result before Saturday.
For Rahlves, there was redemption after the DH frustration. He had lost his cool and was trying to "crush" the hill in the DH, he said; in the super-G, he got his mindset back into focus and skied a determined run with one slip-up. "But to be this close to the win is kinda nice, especially knowing it could have been a better run," he said.
Saturday (downhill) – Strobl, nicknamed "The Cat" for his stealth and feel on snow – but mysteriously without a win since the last Olympic winter, smiled as he earned his ninth World Cup triumph. And Nyman smiled as he reflected on the race, calling it "a wild ride," thanks in part to the flat light.
"It was gnarly, so you just had to stay with it," he said. Nyman’s dad ran the ski school at Sundance for years and he started in that program but shifted to the Park City race program several years, driving in from Orem for daily training sessions. He won the World Junior Championships slalom title and silver in combined in 2002 and finished that season by finishing 15th in slalom at World Cup Finals when Ole-Kristian Furuseth decided to make his final slalom run a side-to-side tour of the course to shake coaches’ hands and say g’bye as he retired.
In recent years, though, Nyman has been brought into the speed camp. He won the U.S. DH gold medal at nationals in Lake Placid, N.Y., in ’03 and repeated last season at Mammoth Mountain, Calif. He’s raced in NorAms at Lake Louise over the last few years, producing four top-10 results in speed events…and giving him a comfortable feel for Lake Louise.
"It was nice having my first World Cup downhill on a hill I know. I knew I put down a good run. I was excited," he said. There was no nervousness in the start; "I’m a pretty easy-going guy," he explained.
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