World Cup wolves fight for control of the pack
Since the Beaver Creek course made its international debut on Dec. 4, 1997, there have been a total of 12 World Cup or World Alpine Ski Championships races contested on the race course. Austrian skier Hermann Maier has won seven of them, and he wasn’t even entered in two.After missing the 2002 Olympics because of a well-publicized injury suffered on his motorcycle Aug. 24, 2001, rumors abounded that Maier would make his comeback on the Birds of Prey course. It was not to be, and Saturday, Dec. 7, marks the third time since ’97 that Maier will be out of the running.With the alpha wolf out, the rest of the pack can make a go at the prize. The most menacing wolf of them all appears to be Maier’s Austrian teammate and skiing legend Stephan Eberharter, who has already captured a victory this year in the season-opening World Cup downhill in Lake Louise, Alberta. on Nov. 30, winning by a half second over another outstanding Austrian, Hannes Trinkl.In fact, almost every wolf lined up to take Maier’s place seems to have a red and white Austrian collar. Lake Louise was another astounding display of the Austrian team’s depth in the downhill category Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway managed to squeeze onto the podium there, but Josef and Fritz Stroble of Austria rounded out the top five.As for the Americans, our hope once again lies in the ability of Bode Miller, who picked up an American-best seventh place finish at Lake Louise.”Had I started where everyone else started, I think I would’ve been closer [to the podium],” Miller says of his season opening downhill. “But I skied a lot better today than any of my training runs.”Miller is very happy with his changeover from Fischer to Rossignol skis, but he admitted in a press conference earlier this year that he doesn’t expect to be a contender for the overall World Cup title, mostly because he doesn’t intend to race in every World Cup downhill.So Saturday marks a special event for American fans, to cheer for Miller as he skis downhill on American turf for the first time since Park City and the Salt Lake City Olympics.With Miller leading the charge, a good amount of energy seems to be gathering around the U.S. Team as it completes the last leg of the American portion of the Cup tour.”Bode’s such a competitor, so focused on the task at hand, and obviously such a good skier, such a good technician and what he does in multiple environments,” says men’s head coach Phil McNichol. “He makes it so much fun to be around him. There’s some great energy in this group.”That energy seems to have caught on with rookie Jake Fiala of Breckenridge, who almost made top-30 in Lake Louise despite a late starting bib.”Nobody skied that well from back there,” Miller says.Fiala, Miller and American downhill expert Daron Rahlves all fared well in a Dec. 4 training run. Rahlves placed second, Miller grabbed ninth, and Fiala placed a surprising 16th.Thursday’s training run went well for Americans as well. Miller marked fourth, Rahlves grabbed fifth, Marco Sullivan of Tahoe City, Calif., grabbed 11th, and Fiala marked 12th.Still, Miller has noted in the past that his team doesn’t perform as well during races as they do in training runs this weekend will give the Americans an opportunity to break that trend.A crispy super-GFor racing fans with a sweet tooth, treasures await at the Red Tail finish stadium at Beaver Creek Sunday, Dec. 8, as the Chevy Truck Birds of Prey men’s super-G competition gets under way.Distributed by the Vail Valley Foundation in conjunction with the Battle Mountain High School Ski Team program, Krispy Kreme doughnuts will be available at no charge while they last.Rahlves is hoping to taste the sweetness of victory once again in super-G. The American racer won a gold medal at the 2001 World Championships in St. Anton, Austria, but has yet to score an international podium since.Trying to FIS da rulesThe 2002 Chevy Truck Birds of Prey World Cup weekend will provide the International Ski Federation (FIS) with its second opportunity of the winter to test the new start formulas for World Cup downhill and super-G competitions.Instituted at the FIS spring meetings in Slovenia, the new start scenarios were established in an effort to provide additional suspense for World Cup speed events for race fans and international television audiences. The initial trials for the new format took place Nov. 29-30, with women’s super-G in Aspen and men’s downhill and super-G in Lake Louise.Under the previous start formula, the top 15 ranked racers had the ability to select their race start positions between 1 and 30. With the new format, World Cup downhill start orders are determined by the results of the final training run, while super-G running orders are established by the current World Cup points ranking in that discipline.For downhill competitions, the top 30 finishers in the final training run will be reversed, with the training run winner running 30th, while the 30th place finisher will start first. A similar format is employed for the second run of World Cup slalom and giant slalom races.For super-G, the racer with the best super-G points will automatically run 30th, with the racer with the 30th best points running first.