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Winning World Cup weekend for U.S.

Paul Robbins, Special to the Record

Bode’s on track. Ted’s on track. Julia and Lindsey are on track, too. And Steven Nyman, who joined the Park City Ski Team after he outgrew the race program at Sundance, is somewhere over the moon.

And as the World Cup heads into its holiday break (both men and women race today and tomorrow, than grab some downtime), the depth of the U.S. men’s alpine team is a growing source of joy. The departure of Daron Rahlves to retirement after his brilliant career still is felt – you don’t lose a quality athlete and an even more quality person without some impact, but other athletes are stepping up to help fill the void. He’s missed, but there’s no time for mourning as the younger skiers arrive.

It was an historic weekend in Italy for the Yanks – four World Cup podiums in 72 hours. Ain’t never been done before by the U.S. Ski Team, male or female division. Four races in four days, four podiums. Sweet!

And Sweeter? How about Julia Mancuso’s victory Tuesday in the downhill in Val d’Isere, France? That made it five consecutive days of World Cup podiums (i.e., top-3s) by U.S. alpine racers.

The Winter Sports School grad (as is Ligety) overwhelmed the course for the 51st Criterium of the First Snow, winning in one minute, 38.93 seconds – more than four-tenths ahead of Austrian Renate Goetschl, who was gunning for the 41st win of her glittering career. In third place was new Park City homeowner Lindsey Kildow, who won in Val d’Isere last year – and won a cow in the process.

"Today’s victory on the World Cup is a little different than the one at the Olympics last [season], but just because the Games are so huge," Mancuso said. "Emotionally, last year was difficult, but today I knew that I had another chance [Wednesday] in case if today didn’t work the way I wanted. It was so exciting to go out there and test my skills."

She even credited Nyman, her ex-boyfriend of two years but ongoing good friend, for inspiring her with his victory Saturday. "He told me I could do it, too, and I should be dynamic. It was kinda like ‘Well, if he can do it, I guess I have to do it,’" she said.

Miller, who won the downhill Dec. 2 at the VISA Birds of Prey quartet of races in Beaver Creek, Colo., started things Friday by winning the super-G in Val Gardena and Nyman, third behind Miller in that Birds of Prey DH and in just his second season on the World Cup, announced his breakthrough Saturday by winning the 50th Saslong Classic in Val Gardena. Sunday, it was Miller again, second in a giant slalom in Alta Badia, and Ligety kept up the beat Monday with another second-place result, this one in slalom.

His performances earned Miller an extra $30,000 in prize money for posting the best overall performance at the two venues in Italy’s photogenic Dolomites. Merry Christmas, Bode.

Said Head Coach Phil McNichol, "Two firsts, two seconds – pretty good show by the boys. That’s a podium in every discipline, and that’s epic."

On the women’s side, intestinal flu derailed Kildow and Mancuso over the weekend in Retieralm – Kildow didn’t start the super combined Friday after being sick the day before, and Saturday she failed to finish a super-G. Mancuso was battling what appeared to be the onset of stomach problems but held on to tie for 18th in the SG. Resi Stiegler was 11th in the "super combi" for the top U.S. showing and Kaylin Richardson, shedding some of her "slalom specialist" label – as Ligety did a year ago, led the U.S. women, finishing 14th in the super-G.

But it was the U.S. gents who stirred the pot before, during and after the weekend while the Austrian men’s funk – a victory in the season opener but none in the 11 races since, a dry spell unseen for years – continued. After placing one guy on the podium in the two speed races, the Austrians were blanked in both tech races in Alta Badia.

Friday – Miller picked off the 23rd win of his tumultuous career as he rocketed out of the start and went on to win in 1:32.35. Austrian Christoph Gruber was second (1:32.99) and Nyman was ninth.

Said Miller, known as much for his pulsating racing strikeouts as much as his snowy home runs, said, "I skied it smart. I didn’t risk too much … definitely the best run of the season for me, not just in races but including training runs, too…

"I wasn’t as much on the edge as usual," the winner said. "I knew I had to ski the right line, and I got it."

Saturday – Steven Nyman, come on up! The easy-smiling racer, a strapping 6-foot-4 (two inches taller than Miller) and 215 pounds, said he rode "magic sticks" given to him by his new waxing tech as he won by a bare two-hundredths of a second. Leo Mussi waxed for Italian star Kristian Ghedina for years; Ghedina won four times in Val Gardena.

Mussi came up with a pair of Fischer skis Ghedina had used two years earlier to finish second in Val d’Isere and Nyman piloted them to his first triumph. "It’s very demanding and even if I hadn’t won, I had a great time coming down the hill," he beamed.

"I knew I had a good run."

Nyman’s winning time was 1:56.52 with Swiss Didier Cuche – one of Nyman’s favorite people on the World Cup because of his positive outlook and sunny disposition – in second at 1:56.54. Austrian Fritz Strobl was third, just .01 ahead of Marco Sullivan, who’s enjoying the best skiing of his career after two years on the sideline following an accident early in the ’04 season.

It was Sullivan’s second top-10 of the young season and a sign he’s ready to make an impact on the tour. "I feel like I’m smarter and skiing fast. I’m looking forward to every race now because I’m confident again and I’m kinda ‘back’…"

Sunday – Miller sprayed Finn Kalle Palander with champagne on the victory podium as he relished his second podium of the weekend. Palander took a big lead in the first run and hammered the field, winning by .41 in 2:28.92. Ligety was seventh.

Miller said he couldn’t believe he was more than a second behind Palander in the first run, sitting seventh, because he skied a nearly flawless run. But he made up for things with his second run.

Ligety was 19th in the first run and let things rip on his final go. "There’s no point in getting 19th, or whatever I was in the first run. I was a little ashamed in that run and I knew I had to bring a second run."

Parkite Erik Schlopy didn’t race after tweaking a knee in training.

Monday – Ligety produced the historic run, making it four podiums in four days as he moved up from fourth on the first run, finishing .19 behind Swede Markus Larsson, who won in 1:44.51.

"My slalom’s been a little bit of a struggle lately," Ligety said, "and I needed this boost of confidence. It’s a really good day."

His right hand, which has been sore since he broke a bone during training two months ago in Austria, is getting stronger and he’s able to propel himself a little better with pole plants, if needed, he said. It’s not fully healed, he said, but the trickiness of not using his hand is gone.

Never mentioning himself, he pointed to Nyman and Sullivan as indications of the depth on the U.S. men’s team. People expect big things from Miller, but Nyman and Sullivan, he said – again without speaking in the first person — show it’s not a Lone Ranger show with Miller out there alone.


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