“I physically would get sick to my stomach if I finished a race and knew I didn’t leave it all on the hill.”
Those words were spoken by American Downhiller legend Daron Rahlves to the current crop of American speedsters at the pre-race meeting on Friday night ahead of Saturday’s Birds of Prey downhill. The American Downhillers have been, in a word, lost thus far in a season that has seen the team fail to land a single skier inside the top 20 in either last week’s opening downhill in Lake Louise, Canada, or today in Beaver Creek.
“I think this is a big topic right now,” said Bryce Bennett, who led the American contingent for the second week in a row in 21st place. “I know our coaches are pretty involved with what’s going on, wondering where the results are, but we don’t have Steve (Nyman), you know? He’s a great team leader. I think everyone is capable of speed and I’m not really worried about it; I know a lot of people are, but once someone puts one down it’s going to be game on.”
Nyman, who is still recovering from a knee injury suffered in last January’s Garmisch downhill, has opted-out of the first races of the season in favor of forerunning and more training time before he kicks out of a World Cup start house for real. In a sport where results are individual, people are quick to forget how much a team’s dynamic can effect individual performances. With Nyman’s absence as team leader and seemingly no one willing to step up and fill his shoes on race day, American fans will have to wait and see if the hometown boys can rebound from their slow start.
American disappointments aside, you couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day for a ski race with sunshine, mild temps, and bulletproof grippy Colorado ice with just the right amount of teeth-rattling chatter to make things interesting all parts of the day’s action.
With the bold decision to go with bib one, Norwegian living legend Aksel Lund Svindal set the early pace and managed to hold off all challengers to take his second Birds of Prey downhill in a row and become the first man since Austrian great Hermann Maier to go back-to-back in Beaver Creek. Thanks to a blazing middle section from Pumphouse down to the Screech Owl Jump that saw every racer lose time to the big Attacking Viking, nobody could touch Svindal on the lower part of the course.
“The secret was to get after it from the very top.” Svindal said of his performance. “I just had a good plan and it takes a little bit of courage to pick number one but I thought that could be a good number and went with it. I think I came out of the steep with a pretty good line so I was able to stay fairly high through Pumphouse and carry my speed, that and the last part I think were my best sections.”
Svindal’s winning time of 1:40.46 seconds was good enough to edge out second-place finisher Beat Feuz of Switzerland by a slim 0.15 seconds for the reigning World Champion’s second downhill podium in as many races to go with his win last week in Lake Louise.
The surprise at the top of the results came from Germany’s Thomas Dressen, who captured the nation’s first men’s downhill podium since 2004 with a third-place finish, 0.49 seconds off of Svindal’s pace.
“Right now it’s just an awesome feeling, it’s just great,” an elated Dressen said after the race. “Right now I’m a bit speechless because I never thought that this race could go so well for me. Since the last Olympics, a lot of things have changed in the German ski team, especially in the speed team. The main goal always was to get a podium, to achieve that right now was just a great feeling.”
Following Bennett for the Americans was Jared Goldberg and Travis Ganong, who finished in a tie for 30th place. Thomas Biesemeyer finished 39th, Wiley Maple 50th, Andrew Weibrecht 54th, and Sam Morse 57th to close out an American performance that by and large left a lot to be desired.
The good news for the American Downhillers is that the speed tour now moves to the Italian Dolomites and the iconic Saslong track in Val Gardena, which has a long history of breakthrough American performances. Bennett has been the lone bright spot in the opening two races of the season for the Americans and with a pair of impressive attack-from-the-back results the last two years down the Saslong, Bennet just might be the spark the Americans need to get their season back on track, especially since he is now working with Nyman’s longtime technician Leo Mussi.
“I think our entire crew just needs a little inspiration and I think Val Gardena is a good place for our entire team,” Bennett said. “I think as soon as someone puts a good result down it’s going to happen. Leo and I are building trust in each other and I feel confident in my abilities and my skiing so I’ll just keep trying to build on that.”
“I don’t want us to be satisfied with mediocre performances,” summed up head speed coach Johno McBride on Friday night. “I want you to hold yourself accountable. I know I am … What’s done is done. The milk is spilled. Clean it up and move forward.”
Racing action continues in Beaver Creek on Sunday with the men’s giant slalom.
Fans can stay up to date on World Cup by downloading the U.S. Ski Team – Ski Racing app for iOS and Android.
- Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR) – Head/Head/Head
- Beat Feuz (SUI) – Head/Head/Head
- Thomas Dressen (GER) – Rossignol/Lange/Look
- Christof Innerhofer (ITA) – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Dominik Paris (ITA) – Nordica/Nordica/Marker
- Vincent Kriechmayr (AUT) – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Andreas Sander (GER) – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Adrien Theaux (FRA) – Head/Head/Head
- Johan Clarey (FRA) – Head/Head/Head
- Peter Fill (ITA) – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Total Time||Diff.||FIS Points||WC Points|
|1||1||421328||SVINDAL Aksel Lund||1982||NOR||1:40.46||0.00||100.00|
|14||19||422139||KILDE Aleksander Aamodt||1992||NOR||1:41.72||+1.26||15.68||18.00|
|19||35||422310||SEJERSTED Adrian Smiseth||1994||NOR||1:42.06||+1.60||19.91||12.00|
|34||41||512031||BARANDUN Gian Luca||1994||SUI||1:42.81||+2.35||29.24|
|55||62||110324||VON APPEN Henrik||1994||CHI||1:43.90||+3.44||42.80|
|61||47||380292||ZRNCIC DIM Natko||1986||CRO||1:44.30||+3.84||47.78|
|69||71||460071||ACHIRILOAIE Ioan Valeriu||1990||ROU||1:47.22||+6.76||84.11|
|Did not finish 1st run|
|Did not start 1st run|