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Kitzbuehel: You never forget your first time, especially on the Streif

Kitzbuehel: You never forget your first time, especially on the StreifKITZBUEHEL, Austria – On Saturday, all eyes will be on the top dogs as they try to win the most notorious downhill in the world: the Hahnenkamm.

There are 51 skiers in the race, but because of the way the start order works, the winner will already be celebrating by the time bib No. 35 even reaches the start gate.

But the race-within-the-race takes place at the back of the pack, where a number of rookies will take their first trip down the legendary Streif course, leaving the final piece of their rookie status near the start gate.

The entire Canadian delegation is seeing the race for the first time. So is Steve Nyman, who is scheduled to lose his Kitzbuehel virginity on Saturday, running 33rd. The 2002 Sprint/Ski Racing Junior of the Year took his first training run on Tuesday and finished 49th, almost seven seconds out.

‘It’ll be fun’ said Nyman on Friday. ‘The tension’s building. … Just to go down. Hopefully it’ll be a good run, because Olympic picks are right after that. It’ll also be a great learning experience for me. That’s how I’m looking at it right now.’

Ski Racing contacted two retired veterans of the American downhill team – Tommy Moe and AJ Kitt – to ask them about their rookie experiences on the famed Hahnenkamm downhill.

‘It’s super scary’ said Tommy Moe, the 1994 Olympic downhill champion. Moe remembers the raw fear that came with his first trip down the legendary Kitzbuehel slope in 1994. ‘You have a sleepless night, but after you go down once you want to do it again, which is kind of scary to think about.’

AJ Kitt remembers his first time at Kitzbuehel, back in 1991.

‘Not to be macho, but it’s where you separate the men from the boys’ said Kitt. ‘You’d come into it thinking ‘OK, I really need to concentrate and focus,’ and you leave there no matter what your result and you feel like you can race in any race in the world.’

For a long time, American downhillers were forced to carry ‘the Rookie Rock’ in their baggage – a heavy burden to lug around Europe that they couldn’t pass on until they had completed the course.

The tradition has mysteriously been paused, and the rock is rumored to be sitting in Marco Sullivan’s back yard in California. (Sullivan has never made it to the finish, so he is still technically a rookie).

But one tradition that shows no signs of fading is the annual Saturday night trip to the Londoner pub. Only those who have succeeded will win the right to get behind the bar and serve drinks to their fans, a decades-old tradition with the American and Canadian teams. ‘You gotta blow off some steam after a race that big’ said Moe.

But no matter how wild things get inside that pub on Saturday night, the newest class of Kitzbuehel veterans – Nyman and the Canadians – are likely to remember every single detail of Saturday, Jan. 21.

You never forget the first time.

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