No American male has ever captured a World Cup downhill title. Is this the year history is made?
Champing at the bit for the World Cup season to begin? So are the men of the U.S. Ski Team’s speed squad, ready to run from the starting gates at Lake Louise after months of training in the Center of Excellence and at camps in Chile and Copper.
It all starts this Saturday, Nov. 28, in Lake Louise.
Wintery conditions in Corralco, Chile, as opposed to the typical freeze thaw cycle, combined with good snow (and laps alongside Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud) at Copper, have Head Coach Sasha Rearick placing his bets on some dark horses, starting with the Warhorse himself — Andrew Weibrecht.
“Weibrecht has been skiing better and better the last three years, more consistent,” Rearick says of the Sochi super G silver medalist’s training times. “In the last three years, he’s probably won run three, four, and five — now he’s winning run one and two. That was always the one thing that kept bugging me.”
As Rearick explains, Weibrecht has fine-honed his inspection skills, and is better able to anticipate speed and terrain factors. He’s also skiing much more compactly and balanced than in years past, says Rearick, mitigating his tendency for the highlight-reel-worthy recoveries for which he’s been known throughout his career.
Veteran Marco Sullivan is another good bet, revved up after just missing the final downhill spot on the American crew racing at the Vail/Beaver Creek 2015 World Championships. He turned things around with top-20 finishes in the last four World Cup downhill races of the season and has since been working with a new physiotherapist, to sort out a lingering back issue.
Fellow team veteran Steve Nyman is coming off his most successful season ever, capturing his third career World Cup downhill victory at Val Gardena, Italy, and ultimately finishing eighth in the season’s downhill standings. “My love of the sport is kind of what kept me going,” Nyman says of getting through injuries and other setbacks. “I know I can do well; I know I can perform at the top.”
Young gun Bryce Bennett joins Nyman as a Fischer athlete this season, making for what is likely the tallest speed duo on the World Cup — a plus for being able to share equipment nuances. “It’s pretty cool this year to have another guy on Fischer with me,” adds Nyman. “He’s a similar body type, and that’s something I was looking for, somebody I can really trade information off of and get good feedback. Bryce is an excellent technical skier.”
Bennett says he also plans to take full advantage of his new equipment deal. “For me, being the younger guy, learning the setup aspect of ski racing takes a lot of trial and error,” he says. “He’s been through every type of setup you could probably imagine, so he has all the information.” Coaches also say that Bennett is more balanced than ever, especially in slalom and giant slalom, something that will likely contribute to success on the highly technical speed tracks of the World Cup this season.
Jared Goldberg, a relative newcomer to the World Cup, has been slowly carving out a name for himself in recent years. “He’s worked hard in the gym,” says Rearick. “He’s been making good steps in his skiing. The main goal for him is to solidify his upper body.”
Goldberg says it’s been a progression. “Coming in to the World Cup two years ago, it was a humbling experience,” he says. “I was trying to really break in fast and get in there quick, but it takes time just learning the tracks.”
Travis Ganong, last season’s World Championship downhill silver medalist spent his first few seasons slowly chipping away at his world rank and says he now feels in a position from which he can contend for a victory all season long.
“I was lucky that I had a lot of time,” says Ganong. “When I first made the ski team and started racing World Cup I had a lot of time to learn the hills and learn how to be fast on the hills. Last year was a huge jump for me, because I started pushing myself and finding those spots where I can find that extra little bit. I’m at a spot now where I can for sure be competitive and fighting for the podium every day.”
Also now finding his footing on the World Cup is Aspen native Wiley Maple. Maple came off a serious knee injury to score World Cup downhill points twice last season. During the summer, he elected to have back surgery to repair a herniated disk that had been hampering him all season long.
“Wiley made a huge step last year, technically,” says Rearick. “He really made a positive step of leveling out and getting over the outside ski. That transferred pretty well into World Cups.” Maple carries a lot of excitement into this season, as he missed out on summer training due to his back rehab. “He’s super jazzed up to ski,” adds Rearick. “The key is going to be keeping the reigns so he doesn’t overtrain.”