BEAVER CREEK - These guys are going pretty fast.
Aside from stating the obvious about the best men's alpine skiers on the planet, these guys are going really fast, even by Birds of Prey standards as training continued for a second day Wednesday at Beaver Creek.
American Travis Ganong was the fastest with a time of 1 minute, 41.67. That's a cause for optimism for the hometown fans. But more importantly, Wednesday was the second-straight day training times dipped down into the 1:41 range. (Austrian Klaus Kroell took top honors Tuesday with a 1:41.52.)
The course record for a full downhill at Birds of Prey is 1:39.59, set by Daron Rahlves in 2003. So taking into account that a lot of field has likely been holding speed back in training to avoid injury and/or scout the course, will the times drop come downhill day on Friday?
"The snow conditions are extremely fast," Ganong said. "This is my fourth year here and this is the quickest the snow's been. The speed coming off the bottom here off of Harrier Jump and Red Tail Jump, we're going really fast. You can feel the speed down here. Definitely faster than years in the past."
As for 1:39.59 going down Friday, Ganong was mixed.
"The course set's a lot turnier than it used to be in the past, so there's no way it can be that much faster," he said. "It will never be 1:39. But we're getting close. Hopefully, on race day, I can get that. It would nice."
The first two days of training have been nearly 4 seconds faster than their counterparts last year. Bode Miller won last year's downhill in 1:43.82, which would have tied him for 30th in Wednesday's training run with Finland's Andreas Romar.
Unseasonably-warm day-time temperatures are clearly making the Birds of Park racecourse a faster track. In the interests of disclosure, the finish line has been moved up 15 meters, but that accounts for 3-tenths of a second, not four full ones. Beaver Creek crews have worked on Screech Owl turn, but a turn, by its nature, slows racers down.
"I think it's two things," Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal said. "The top flats are a little faster because they're a little straighter. I think also, to me, the bottom part is faster. Even though they tried to down the speed going into Golden Eagle, I can pick it up fast again. This last section is fast. I also feel Pumphouse is faster."
Svindal brings up two interesting points. The "top flats," or The Flyway, are where racers must glide well to pick up speed. It's exposed up there, before The Brink, where the world falls away. You've got to tuck there to keep speed. That's exactly how Rahlves won with his 1:39.59 in 2003. He beat the field on that interval.
The lower portion being faster is also intriguing. That's traditionally where racers lose speed.
In an informal survey of racers, the jury is still mixed, though.
"No, it doesn't feel faster, said Canadian Erik Guay, who won the downhill globe in 2010-11. "It could be because the snow is really good. I wouldn't say it's quicker."
After he heard that times in training were considerably faster, he said, "Is it really? That being said, I can't feel the difference."
American Marco Sullivan, on the other hand, thinks the course is ripe.
"I'd say (the record)'s definitely within reach this year because the weather's staying good and it's only going to get faster as we're running it," he said.
While Ganong took top honors Wednesday, Italy's Siegmar Klotz was second with Austria's Joachim Puchner third and France's Guillermo Fayed fourth.
Italy's Christof Innerhofer punched in at fifth, his second good training run in a row. Hannes Reichelt of Austria finished sixth. He's a guy to watch as he's won twice here in super-G. Sullivan was seventh, as he continues his resurgence after a third-place finish in downhill last week up in Lake Louise, Alberta.
Switzerland's Carlo Janka checked in at eighth. He has quite the history here, having swept all three events (downhill, super-G and giant slalom) in 2009. Germany's Tobias Stechert and Italy's Dominik Paris rounded out the top 10.
Do keep in mind that some big Austrian names like Max Franz, Benni Raich, Georg Streitberger and Klaus Kroell all took the day off from specific downhill training. Most downhills traditionally have two days of training, but Beaver Creek added a third because the weather usually wipes out a day of training. Naturally, having added a third day of practice, there's barely been a cloud in the sky this week.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.