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Americans combine for a super day

Ian Cropp
Vail, CO Colorado
BOP Ted Ligety SC PU 11-29-07
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BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” The good vibes started early in the downhill and didn’t stop even when Ted Ligety, the final American skier, crossed the finish line.

In the season’s first World Cup super-combined race Thursday, the U.S. Ski Team had another classic performance at the Birds of Prey course in Beaver Creek.

“This is bar none our best combined result as a team ever,” said Phil McNichol, the U.S. men’s head alpine coach.

The U.S. placed four racers in the top 14, three in the top 10 and saw one miss the podium by 0.05 seconds.

“We’ve really been working hard in combined, and it was amazing,” McNichol said.

Bode Miller led the way in fourth followed by Ted Ligety, whose slalom run propelled him from 39th all the way to eighth. T.J. Lanning put together two solid runs for a career-best 10th-place finish, while Andrew Weibrecht scored his first career World Cup points in 14th place. Steven Nyman had the second-fastest downhill run but fell during his slalom run. Marco Sullivan finished the downhill run in 22nd and didn’t start the slalom portion.

“It was incredible for Andrew ” his first World Cup points and T.J.’s first World Cup points in combined, and the second time he’s scored,” McNichol said.

While Miller was sixth in the downhill, he was 18th in the slalom and it looked like he was going to take the bronze until France’s Jean-Baptiste Grange put down the fastest slalom run of the day to jump into second and push Ondrej Bank of the Czech Republic into third.

Ligety, who hasn’t trained much downhill this season, was 2.33 seconds off the top downhill time heading into the slalom run.

“I knew I had a chance to move up a lot,” Ligety said. “I felt like I skied it very well after that downhill run was disappointing. It wasn’t where I wanted to be after that. But it’s tough ” that being my second run in downhill skis in a couple of months ” but it should only get better and come on here the rest of the year. It’s too bad Grange beat me by so much in the second run, but that’s how it goes sometimes ” he was on fire.”

McNichol is optimistic that Ligety, the 2006 Olympic gold medalist in the combined, will improve in the speed portion of the super-combined.

“Give it time, and it’ll come up as we come into the season,” McNichol said. “He just needs more training runs.”

As evidenced by his drop in downhill time of about 2 1/2 seconds from Tuesday’s training run to Thursday’s race, Ligety finding speed quickly.

At last year’s Birds of Prey, Lanning took a nasty spill that left him with a badly broken hand, a broken nose and a chipped tooth.

“Last year, I struggled a bit because I was scared. My first race back was Val Gardenia, and I had a good (training) run, then flew off a jump 20 meters farther than anyone and landed on my back,” Lanning said.

But thanks to some good training this summer and a pair of good finishes at Lake Louise, Alberta, Lanning said he didn’t even think about last year’s crash when he took to the hill Thursday. His skiing, however, did some pretty good talking. After finishing the downhill run in 17th, Lanning took 11th in the slalom and landed on the victory stage for the first time.

“Compared to last year, this was ten fold better,” Lanning said.

In a hairpin turn on the slalom run, Lanning got pulled a bit out of rhythm but recovered well.

“Normally, I would have pinned it and tried to make up all that time, but I just stuck with my game plan.”

Weibrecht got things started with a great downhill in which he finished in 12th, just a shade more than a second off the mark of top finisher Didier Cuche.

“I had never finished a downhill before today,” Weibrecht said of the Birds of Prey course.

After the downhill, Weibrecht tried to approach the slalom like any other race.

“I did tighten up a little bit, then I thought about it and realized it wasn’t that big of a deal, and I was able to loosen up and go for it,” he said. “The downhill run was a better run than I thought. My slalom isn’t at the top of its game right now, but I went down and it was kind of fast, and that’s all I can really ask for.”

Weibrecht got more than he asked for.

“I was hoping to be in the top 30 ” that was my ultimate goal, and I did that by a good margin,” he said.

With solid downhill runs, both Weibrecht and Lanning earned team spots in today’s downhill.

“It gives me a ton of confidence going into the downhill tomorrow because I’ve always been pretty scared of this hill because I’ve had a few close calls on it,” Weibrecht said.

Nyman, meanwhile, should feel really good about today’s downhill. After taking second in Tuesday’s downhill training run, Nyman equaled his result Thursday. Early in his slalom run, however, Nyman tumbled when one of his skis buckled underneath him.

“It was a bummer, but I had 10 good turns before that,” Nyman said. “Hopefully, I can link a run together one of these days.”

Before he took his slalom run, Nyman talked about a bit of his slalom uncertainty

“I’ve been winning training runs in slalom, so I really don’t know,” he said. “In speed (events) I can judge where I’m standing in the world, but I really don’t know (for slalom). If I can just get my World Junior slalom legs under me.”

Nyman said he’s still working on finding the same confidence in the slalom start house that he has when he’s in the downhill start house.

“But I’m really happy with my downhill run, … and that’s what I’ll roll with (today),” he said. “It was great to get another lap on the course.”

Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.


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