Americans master art of recovery
BEAVER CREEK – If there’s anyone that knows the intricacies of crashing, close calls and recoveries, it’s Bode Miller.Miller won Saturday’s Birds of Prey giant slalom making many of his turns crazily with his weight on the backs of his skis, going down on his hip at one point. And he hasn’t been the only member of the U.S. Ski Team to exhibit prowess in recovering from mishaps on the race course.Erik Schlopy broke his hand in the first run Saturday when he hit a gate. Despite a fleeting thought of calling back his aggression, he continued full-throttle to the finish line with one pole.”It happened so quickly,” Schlopy said. “It was like someone shot my hand with a shotgun. It flung me around and I lost my pole at the same time. My thought process at first was, ‘Back off.’ Then, I realized if I did that, I would regret it.”
Schlopy took fourth place and continued into the second run. Since he couldn’t squeeze his hand to hold his pole, his coaches tightly taped his hand around it so he wouldn’t lose it again. He fired down the course and took fourth overall, just .01 seconds off of the podium. Schlopy said part of his recovery mentality was inspired by watching his teammate put it to use so often.”That’s what Bode’s so good at. He’s chaotic from to bottom, but he comes in fast. It has inspired me,” Schlopy said.Crash techniquesThere’s only so much a racer can control when he is about to crash or in the process of crashing. Some ski racers employ certain techniques. Americans Ted Ligety and Jake Zamansky went down hard in the first run of Saturday’s GS, but walked away without major injuries. Scott Macartney did the same when he lost a ski in Friday’s downhill. Macartney estimated he was going about 70 mph when he lost the ski two turns above The Pumphouse, slid through a gate and about 150 yards down the hill, skillfully holding his attached ski aloft until he slowed enough to use it as a brake. Unlike Schlopy, who was able to ski the bottom half of the GS course with one pole, Macartney couldn’t manage the downhill on one ski.”I’ve pulled it off before going that fast, but this time, it was my inside ski. It went underneath me and I was sliding. Once you start sliding, you’ve just got to slide,” Macartney said, adding that if there’s any one rule in avoiding injury in a crash, it’s to keep one’s skis off of the snow when sliding.
“If you put your skis down, it’s easy to catch an edge when you’re sliding. It puts you in a really bad position when you’re still sliding at about 60 mph,” Macartney said. “Sometimes, you slide for two seconds and hit a fence going 60 mph. That’s no fun. Really though, if you’re just sliding, you’re usually OK. It’s much better than if you start to cartwheel.”Cartwheeling could describe Ligety’s crash Saturday. Ligety went down face first about a third of the way down the course and popped back up on his skis only to have gravity spin him around backwards and back into the ground, where he snowballed offcourse. When Zamansky went down, he slid on his side at high speed downcourse at but ended up back on his feet. He missed a gate in the process. Miller, as many have witnessed, has a history of such miraculous recoveries with no missed gates and even some podium finishes.A ‘different league’ of recoveryWhile Miller’s body has made contact with the race course numerous times in his career, instinct is not what has brought his feet back under him to administer such narrowly averted disasters.
“The instinct is to keep your feet off the ground so you don’t blow out your knee,” he said, concurring with Macartney. “You put your skis in the snow like that and catch the wrong way and you have 175 pounds levering on your knee. You figure out the way to get your balance in the right direction where you can stick your ski in and pop back up. Those kinds of recoveries are kind of in a different league. I don’t do it on purpose, but it’s definitely exciting.”The U.S. Team coaches don’t give their racers special lessons on crashing or recovering. But after Saturday’s GS performances, they said that “pushing the limits” in training is perhaps what conditions racers like Miller to pull off close calls on the race hill.”We don’t necessarily teach recovery,” said U.S. Men’s Team head coach Phil McNichol. “However, we try to teach tenacity and fortitude. We try to push the guys in training to go beyond their limits. Maybe in a race they’ll push themselves to a place where their speed or aggressive approach may outstep their technical ability. That’s when recoveries come into play. (Bode’s) whole personal approach is, ‘How much of my time can I spend on the other side of my limitations?’ He’s really mastered recovery because he’s always pushing himself … almost to a point of disaster.”Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext.14632, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado