American racers go for glory at World Championships
Daily staff writers
Editor’s note: The Vail Daily is running profiles of members of the U.S. Ski Team. Many of these athletes will be representing the U.S. during the 2015 Alpine World Ski Championships, which are Feb. 2-15 at Beaver Creek and Vail. The U.S. Ski Team will announce selections for World Championships on Wednesday.
Steven Nyman, who turns 33 during the World Championships, began skiing at the age of 2 in Sundance, Utah. He spent some of his formative training years in Park City before getting picked to compete at the 2002 Junior Worlds. From there, he excelled quickly in the speed events and is now in his 13th year on the U.S. Ski Team.
Nyman’s career has, as he himself will admit, had its ups and downs, but when he’s on his game, he’s one of the most dynamic and fun skiers to watch. He’s on a tear this season, despite having to start on the B Team and raise $20,000 to be able to race. He proved that he deserves a spot, starting off the early season with a third place finish at Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey World Cup downhill in December and a win at Val Gardena, Italy, later in the month. His many fans and supporters think he’s capable of great things this season, too — just look for the Believe in Steven pins and signs in the crowd in Vail and Beaver Creek this February.
“We’ve been working with a new trainer, and my body’s never been better. I’m feeling physically amazing,” he said. “Last year I had some high expectations but didn’t even come close to it. I had a lot of technical issues, but I learned a lot from last year. I’ve figured out a lot of stuff with my equipment and got things right in my headspace, so I’d like to perform at a big event.”
A big event, that is, such as the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships on the Beaver Creek course, where he’s had some of his career highlights, which include three podium finishes at Birds of Prey. There’s no doubt the 6-foot 4-inch veteran will be a force at this year’s Championships.
“Ever since I was young, I had written down these goals that I wanted to be a world champion — not an Olympic champion — but a world champion. I think my mom still has it,” he said, laughing. “To do it on home soil would be amazing.”
As a kid growing up near Lake Tahoe, California, Travis Ganong dreamed about becoming a professional ski racer for the U.S. and traveling the world. With the example of older sister and U.S. Ski Team member Megan, he’s doing just that these days, coming off a breakthrough 2013-14 season.
The world has started paying attention to the downhiller after he took fifth at the Sochi Winter Olympics, adding the result to a number of World Cup top 10 finishes. He took his first World Cup podium at Kvitfjell, Norway, in February 2014.
“To finally step on the podium was awesome. That’s the dream of any skier,” he said.
He earned his first World Cup win in the downhill in Santa Caterina, Italy, in December.
Now, he has his eye on more podium finishes — especially at the World Championships. He said he considers himself a contender for the podium on any given weekend and looks to take the torch from the great American downhillers of the last decade.
As for racing at Beaver Creek, he took fifth at the Birds of Prey World Cup and expects that he’ll have a good advantage at the World Championships course.
“I really like the hill. It really suits my style of skiing,” he said. “It’s really flowy and fun, a couple of big jumps and compressions. The snow is the reason I love it the most; it’s the best snow we ski all year. I’m looking forward to having two races on that course this year.”
When not ski racing, Ganong can be found big mountain skiing or hanging out with his girlfriend, Canadian Ski Team member Marie-Michele Gagnon.
Andrew Weibrecht made one of the most triumphant returns to the podium of the entire 2014 Olympics, mainly because he had not found himself on a podium since the last Olympics, four years earlier.
After battling a string of injuries the War Horse, as the Lake Placid, New York, skier is known, is now racing with restored health, as well as restored confidence.
“I feel 100 percent,” he said. “As good as I’ve felt since the 2009-2010 season, so that just a huge boost for me.”
In December, Weibrecht finished 10th at the Birds of Prey super-G. His first ever World Cup downhill race was on the same course in 2007, and he also finished 10th then in a thrilling ride that brought back memories of Franz Klammer’s famous gold medal run from the ’76 Olympics.
“That was at the time when I felt invincible,” he said. “That was before I had any injuries. … It’s something I do continue to look back on. I can’t believe that I used to be that crazy.”
In coming back from injury, Weibrecht’s feelings of invincibility have dissipated.
“Once the physical side comes back, then it’s a total uphill battle,” he said. “Both in the skiing that you lost … and then it’s just such a process to get the comfort back on skis, the comfort to give it 100 percent at high speed.”
Now back to his full capabilities, Weibrecht is hoping for another great ride at the World Championships.
“(The) Vail and Beaver Creek area has been really good to me as an athlete,” he said. “It’s definitely not been an easy road, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel now.”
New York state’s Tommy Biesemeyer grew up skiing and training at New York’s Whiteface Mountain, the site of the 1980 Winter Olympics. He started traveling to races as a preteen and was able to make his way onto the U.S. Ski Team after a victory at the 2003 Junior Olympics.
This season, Biesemeyer is returning from a torn ACL and sprained MCL injury from a crashed at the Lake Louise World Cup in 2013.
“It was a tough year to get hurt, with the Olympics, and it’s hard to have it happen during the first race of the season,” he said. “But getting hurt is getting hurt.”
He saw the timing as a way to have plenty of time to get ready for this season. He’s been back on the snow honing his speed and strength since November. Watch for him on the super-G courses, working his way back up the NorAm and European Cup circuits. He hopes the year will go well enough to land him back on the World Cup circuit.
He took the recovery time to attend the University of Vermont for business, but at the moment, he’s focused on staying healthy and getting results. While he was injured, he stayed away from the ski-racing scene, but now that he’s back, he’s excited at the prospect of having the World Championships in Colorado.
“With the World Championships at home, it’s a treat. Hopefully we can put on a good show and display ski racing to the U.S.,” he said.
McMakin, 96, loves life as only one can who has come so close to losing it so often, and seen others not as lucky.