Predictably, considering the record of the women’s speed team (6 wins and 12 podiums) versus that of the men’s (1win and 2 podiums) the focus of the US Ski Team’s pre-competition press conference in Schladming was slanted heavily to the ladies.
While women’s coach Alex Hoedlmoser said he was still weighing which four of his six speed event women would start in which events, (see separate story on women’s team) men’s coach Sasha Rearick does not have that problem. He does, however, see some possibilities.
“When Steven (Nyman) gets the flow of the terrain he can be very good,” said Rearick. “Travis (Ganong) has the whole variety of skills, and (Marco) Sullivan is a gliding machine.”
The Schladming downhill track has, Rearick said, a bit of everything and the team does have a bit of an advantage. “I don’t know how many people know this,” said Sullivan, “We trained here a week before Christmas and a week after. We trained with the Austrian team. We’re ready for this hill.”
That was part of an agreement with the Austrians that gave them access to the high altitude speed training facility at Copper Mountain in November.
Rearick praised his athletes, indicating all of them have been “… giving 100 percent every single day.” He noted the speed program has been revamped. “In the past year we shifted to be more specialized, brought in the best speed coach in the world, Andi Evers, and are working to refine technique. We’re working harder than anyone else.”
Sullivan added that the speed group, at least at the World Cup level, has also been pared down.
“We whittled down the size of our group. There’s basically four of us who really know our job is to race World Cup. Then we bring in a few young guys to spice things up every once in a while.”
Steven Nyman is the only one to have won a World Cup race this season, six years after his first win.
“It has been a long journey – six years,” said Nyman, his career ravaged by injuries and the ensuing recoveries. “It was awesome to stand on top of the podium again. It brought back a lot of memories.
It has been hard work.”
Nyman indicated he has not had any trouble staying motivated. “The motivating thing is the young gus coming up, and you’ll see some of them here: Thomas Biesemeyer and Ryan Cochran-Siegle. These guys are nipping at our heels.”
The task on hand, though, is the World Championships. “I came last season in a coaching capacity just to get on the hill. It’s nice to be back here in Schladming.”
The winner at Val Gardena on a day when weather played too big a role, Nyman said his biggest issue this season has been consistency. “For me at least the issue is I’ve always seemed to have a big mistake every run. I will have splits in the top 10 and then one that’s 45th or 50th or something. I just need to clean up my runs and put it in there.”
If the coach is right, the man with the best shot at bringing the US a men’s speed medal could be Ganong.
“Travis is an incredible talent,” said Nyman. “He’s won a few training runs this year. if he can transfer that to race day, he’s got incredible stuff. He just needs to put it down race day.”
“He’s been learning the tracks,” said Rearick. “It’s a step by step progression. Now he is able to take some risk in sections in training, trying it out.”
Asked about interest in the sport in the US – ironically on the evening of the Super Bowl – Nyman said the presence of superstars “like these girls (Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuco) and Bode is definitely a spotlight for sure.”
Asked about his part in that spotlight, Sullivan quipped, “I’m not sure that many people even know I’m still ski racing.”
Now, if it will stop snowing long enough, all that remains is the actual racing. The World Championships take the spotlight tomorrow with the men’s super G on tap for Wednesday.
“It’s a great super G hill,” said Rearick. “I suspect we’ll see a side to side course set.”
Mitch Gunn photo courtesy US Ski Team