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Birds of Prey kicks off — weather permitting — with Thursday super G

Birds of Prey kicks off – weather permitting – with Thursday super G{mosimage}BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – The U.S. Ski Team kicks off its 10 Weeks to Torino series of major snowsport events leading to the Olympics Thursday as the $300,000 VISA Birds of Prey World Cup races return to Beaver Creek, starting with the men’s super G.
NBC will televise coverage Saturday at 3 p.m. ET from the Birds of Prey races.

Snow during the night, followed by screaming winds, forced organizers to cancel the final downhill training run Wednesday for Friday’s downhill, but volunteers and race crews were working to prepare the course for Thursday’s super G.

Unheralded Austrian Stephan Goergl ended the historic start-of-season winning streak by Bode Miller in last year’s super G. Miller had won the first three races of the World Cup season, making him the first to do so, but he was second in the Birds of Prey race, sandwiched between Goergl and fellow Austrian Mario Schreiber.

This season, Miller – the defending overall World Cup champion, the first American to do so since 1983 – was second in the first race but struggled last weekend in Lake Louise (where he had won both races a year ago). He stands sixth in the overall standings after three races.

He and U.S. men’s head coach Phil McNichol like the four consecutive days of racing, conceding it can pose some logistical strains, but spending more time in one place and racing on an outstanding course are more than worth it.

‘The excitement of a tournament-style event’ McNichol said, ‘is where the sport should be going.’ Miller added, ‘Having four races in a row is something I enjoy. I like the challenge of having one event right after the other, and having to switch skis. The challenge makes it easy to get excited about it.’

Last year, Miller and Daron Rahlves went 1-2, with Park City’s Bryon Friedman sixth in the Birds of Prey downhill. Two years ago, Rahlves won the first of two downhills on the course. He and Miller say the speed run is one of their favorites, suiting their aggressive and technical style.

Rahlves, who flew over the speed run in an Air National Guard F-16 fighter jet earlier in the month, said, ‘I don’t care if it’s World Cup, Olympics or World Championships, if it’s a good hill then you’re excited to ski it … and that’s what it’s all about here.’

The U.S. Ski Team will have six racers in the super G: Miller, who also is the defending World Cup super G champion and World Championships gold medalist in the event, Rahlves, Marco Sullivan, Scott Macartney, Steve Nyman and JJ Johnson.

When the training run was canceled, the team went through dryland training. ‘We pretended to be basketball players for a little bit’ said a smiling downhill/super G head coach John McBride, ‘but we really aren’t. But the hoops help with the conditioning and we had a good session.’

The overnight and predawn winds created nightmarish condition on the race course, he said, causing plenty of drifting with the new snow. “They’re gonna have their hands filled with getting things ready’ McBride said, ‘but Birds of Prey race crews always get it together and I’m not concerned about their end of things. They know what they’re doing.’

The super G, set for an 11 a.m. MT start time, is to be followed Friday by the downhill (also 11 a.m.), the giant slalom Saturday (first run 11 a.m., second run at 2 p.m.) and slalom Sunday (9:45 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.). Total purse for each race is $75,000 with victory worth $30,000.

10 Weeks to Torino is the innovative collection of events across the country as part of the Olympic qualifying process in each sport, the longest string of such high-level competitions in U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association history. The program includes World Cups, national championships, freestyle Olympic Trials and snowboarding Grand Prix contests.

– Courtesy USSA News Bureau

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