KVITJELL, Norway — Talk about a breakout season.
Just a couple of weeks after competing in his first-ever Olympic Games, Squaw Valley skier Travis Ganong knifed through rugged snow and limited visibility last Friday to earn the first World Cup podium finish of his career with third in the first of two downhills in Kvitfjell, Norway.
The next day, Ganong finished fourth, a mere .05 from a second downhill podium.
“This is a really big step in my career,” Ganong said. “I’ve been slowly building up the last four years on the World Cup tour and this last month or so I’ve really been finding some speed. Now I’m at a point where I’m really relaxed and having fun. The good skiing comes out when you’re relaxed and letting the skis roll.”
Fresh off what was a career-best fifth place at the Olympic Winter Games downhill in Sochi, Russia, Ganong wiped his goggles mid run as rain and wet snow pelted the fog-shortned course Friday.
“When I went it was raining and I had to do a goggle wipe halfway down the hill. But on days like today it’s tough, you’ve just got to forget about the weather and just ski,” Ganong said. “You can’t really see anything, so you just have to put your head down and ski.”
Olympic super G champion Kjetil Jansrud of Norway and Austrian Georg Streitberger tied for a unique victory.
Bode Miller finished 16th, Steven Nyman 18th and Marco Sullivan of Squaw Valley 21st to give the Americans four finishers in the top 30.
“I always told myself I’d get to this point,” Ganong said. “It was just a matter of time. I’ve had enough time now racing all these hills and I’m comfortable. I’m also stronger than I was last year and I’m more fit. I’m not burnt out at all. Usually at this time of year people are tired and right now I feel like I’m just starting out the season.”
Ganong had his sights on the top of the podium the following day but finished just out of the top three.
The course was held from the super G start after consecutive days of fog, rain and wet snow prevented the crews from preparing the full-length 1994 Olympic speed track.
Canadian Erik Guay hit 88 mph on the final speed trap to secure the win, the fifth of his career, with a time of 1:22.17. Miller also landed in the top 10 with eighth in the final men’s downhill prior to the March 10-16 World Cup Finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
“It was another fun day. I wanted to win today,” Ganong said. “I really thought I could, so I pushed a little harder and had a couple mistakes. I was able to make up a lot of time on the bottom and salvage fourth place.”
Sullivan finished 24th and Nyman 25th.
Only the top 25 athletes in each discipline qualify to start that discipline at World Cup Finals. Athletes with 500 World Cup points can also start in any race and the Junior World Champion can start the discipline he won.
Only Miller, in seventh, and Ganong, in ninth, have qualified in downhill for the U.S. Ski Team. Sullivan and Nyman are just outside the top 25.
Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal tied for sixth in the race but mathematically secured the season-long downhill title with a 525-360 lead over injured racer Hannes Reichelt of Austria and Guay, who now has 357 points. Svindal also jumped into the World Cup overall lead with a 982-955 margin over two-time defending champion Marcel Hirscher of Austria. Hirscher is seeking to become the first three-peat overall champion since American Phil Mahre did it from 1981-83.
Ganong credited his upbringing at Squaw Valley for his success this season.
“I grew up in Lake Tahoe, California, and skiing at Squaw Valley — the same place as Julia Mancuso, Marco Sullivan and Daron Rahlves,” he said. “Growing up there you have passion for skiing, it’s embedded in our culture. I would even be out there on rainy days like today, just having a great time. You have to love skiing to be able to perform in conditions like we had today. I love skiing.”