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Nov. 29: Beaver Creek first training run: Austrian Gruber leads pack

Nov. 29: Beaver Creek first training run: Austrian Gruber leads pack{mosimage}BEAVER CREEK, Colorado – Austria’s Christoph Gruber posted the fastest time in a men’s training World Cup downhill session Tuesday, while skiers monitored an approaching storm that could dramatically change the course and maybe wipe out the final practice.

Gruber, who is still seeking his first career World Cup downhill victory, charged down the surprisingly slow Birds of Prey course in preparation for Friday’s race in 1 minute, 44.45 seconds.

Last year, Bode Miller’s winning time was some five seconds faster on this famously challenging downhill course and few changes have been made to the layout this year.

Norway’s Bjarne Solbakken crossed second in 1:44.55 in training, while Austrian Fritz Strobl, who won the Lake Louise downhill on Saturday, clocked the third-best time of 1:44.61.

Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, who won Sunday’s super G in Lake Louise, crossed fourth in 1:44.66 and reigning downhill World Cup champion Michael Walchhofer of Austria finished fifth in 1:44.77.

“‘It’s a little soft, but good,” said Svindal. ”It’s a lot of fun. After the flats at the top there’s tons of action and there’s not one second where you’re not doing anything. It requires a lot of concentration. It’s a great course.

”That said, if it gets faster it could be dangerous because the jumps are so big. If it gets faster I think they’ll have to tone down their course.”

The training times were only somewhat representative, with most skiers testing the course for the first time this season, some for the first time in their career.

Wednesday’s practice – the final scheduled training session – will be used to determine starting positions. The fastest 30 start in reverse order on race day.

However, a severe snowstorm that was descending on Beaver Creek had teams and organizers worried that Wednesday’s final training will be canceled. If the session is wiped out, the start list will be determined in reverse order of the FIS rankings based on the past year’s results.

Racing begins Thursday with a super-G, followed by the downhill on Friday. A giant slalom is scheduled for Saturday and a slalom for Sunday.

American Daron Rahlves, stalking the downhill title in what will likely be his last season on the circuit, clocked 1:45.32 to tie for ninth with France’s Antoine Deneriaz, who has shown promise in his return from injury this season, finishing 12th in Lake Louise’s downhill.

Miller, who had a disappointing campaign in Canada, where he finished 22nd in the downhill and 18th in the super G after winning both races last season, was 42nd in training in 1:46.83.

Rahlves and overall World Cup champion Miller swept first and second place in the downhill here last season.

”It’s been a long time since then and a lot of stuff has happened between then and now,” Miller said. ”But both Daron and I are psyched with the way we skied then and that’s what we’ll try and remember. That feeling of the way we skied. A one-two sweep, swip or swap this time, would be great but basically we both just want to attack this course.”

Miller’s principle rival for the overall title, Austrian Benjamin Raich, was 21st in 1:45.82.

Austrian Hermann Maier, whose ankle is still 100 percent recovered from a training accident in New Zealand this summer, crossed 47th in 1:46.98.

The top American in the run was Steven Nyman, the 2002 Sprint/Ski Racing
Junior of the Year, who started 47th and finished seventh. Justin Johnson was 13th.

– The Associated Press

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