World Cup Alpine racing: Big crowd greets Birds of Prey downhill race
Special to the Sun
BEAVER CREEK, Colo. and#8212; Saturday brought out a big crowd for the World Cup downhill and#8212; it seemed everyone wanted to see the gladiators suit up and charge down the Birds of Prey course, risking life and limb in the spirit of a friendly competition.
The downhill is the one event that truly pits man against mountain. Sure, there are competitors to beat for medal to be handed out, but you have to beat the mountain first.
And in downhill, make one mistake and the mountain can swallow you up and spit you out into the protective netting that surrounds the race course. Season-ending and#8212; and possible career-ending and#8212; injuries are not uncommon. As a grim reminder of this, American C.J. Lanning lays in the Vail hospital bed recovering from a dislocated knee and a broken neck after crashing in the previous weekend’s world cup downhill in Canada.
Saturday’s Birds Of Prey saw the Swiss dominate with a oneand#8211;two finish.
Twenty-three-year-old phenom Carlo Janka skied to gold, while fellow Swiss star Didier Cuche and Norwegian world champion Aksel Lund Svindal followed just a blink of an eye behind for the silver and bronze.
A mere four one-hundredths of a second separated these top three finishers. Janka has been making meteoric progress since he debuted on the world cup in 2007. He finished 130th overall that year, 64th in 2008 and seventh last year.
One of the highlights of the day was Bode Miller, who skied with the attacking and reckless style he’s famous for to take fourth place.
He made turns only Miller can make and#8212; with his left hand dragging in the snow behind the tails of his skis, and his right hand flailing in the air as if grasping for a life line to pull him to safety. Miller appears to be energized, finding the enthusiasm that seemed lost last season.
After disappointing results in the previous world cup stop in Canada (he finished 29th in Downhill and 39th in super G), he was not getting any kid-glove-treatment from U.S. men’s head coach Sasha Rearick. Rearick was quoted in Wednesday’s USA Today saying, and#8220;He wasn’t fit in October when he joined us … You don’t get 100 percent strength back in six weeks.and#8221;
The U.S. coach added that he didn’t expect Miller to be at full strength until mid to late January. Miller admitted after the race, and#8220;the fitness level is going to be a bit of an issue for a little while.and#8221;
That’s good news, because he’s proven what an unfit Miller can accomplish with a fourth place, and the Olympics are still a month and a half away and#8230; stay tuned.
Truckee’s Marco Sullivan got off to a blistering start that had him leading the field by 25-hundredths of a second after the first interval. That doesn’t sound like much, but in ski racing, that’s huge and#8212; especially in a race where 4-hundredths will separates the top three finishers.
As Sullivan entered the steep and technical section halfway down the course, he fought hard through mistakes, making a spectacular recovery in the critical turns that also nearly claimed Miller as a victim.
This section either makes or breaks a run. Too many mistakes and a racer drop precious speed before entering the transition to a long flat. It’s like throwing out an anchor.
Despite critical mistakes, Sullivan crossed the finish line in 11th place, although he was bumped to 14th later.
Sullivan is off to a solid start in this young world cup season and#8212; he already has two top-15 finishes under his belt as he heads for Europe is search of the podium.
Andrew Wiebrecht is off to a strong start as well. He’s a little guy and#8212; standing 5 feet 6 inches under a blond mop of hair. Wiebrecht posted strong results the previous weekend in Canada with a pair of 12th-place finishes.
In Saturday’s Birds of Prey downhill, the 23-year-old came from the 47th start position to finish 11th.
and#8220;This course still continues to scare me pretty bad,and#8221; he said after the race. and#8220;But I feel like I’m getting a handle on it.and#8221;
Wiebrecht said he got some help from a great course report from Sullivan.
and#8220;Marco said it’s totally rip-able. Having that knowledge and being able to know it comes from a guy who was sitting in 11th place at the time, it’s great,and#8221; he said.
The countdown to the 2010 winter Olympic games stands at 67 days as of Monday. The American downhill team is off to a good start as they head to Europe for four more world cup races. The Olympic torch will be lit on Feb. 12.