Americans not thrilled with Raptor debut
BEAVER CREEK — It wasn’t exactly the first impression that the U.S. Women’s Ski Team wanted to make during the inaugural World Cup downhill at the Raptor at Beaver Creek on Friday. On the other hand, it wasn’t a wipeout either.
Stacey Cook led a trio of Americans into the points with a 19th-place finish with Julia Mancuso in 20th and Laurenne Ross tied for 22nd. Meanwhile, youngster Jacqueline Wiles, of Oregon, also made her World Cup debut.
‘Races like this happen’
“The bumps seemed to knock me around a lot today,” said Cook about her run, but she could just as well been speaking for the team. “I’m not sure why. We’ll have to look at the video and figure out what went wrong. Races like this happen. It’s just unfortunate it happened on our home turf.”
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The Americans get their next shot at Raptor with today’s super-G race, which starts at 10:45 a.m.
For some perspective, when Birds of Prey made its debut on Dec. 4, 1997, with a downhill, Tommy Moe was the top American in 27th and A.J. Kitt finished 29th. The men’s first podium was Daron Rahlves’ third place finish in 2002, and he was also the first to win here in 2003.
It’s hard to see the women going that long on Raptor. (Lindsey Vonn, who is out this week with a re-aggravated right-knee injury, won a super-G on Birds of Prey on Dec. 7, 2011.)
The day started ominously with Leanne Smith going sideways on Peregrine Run Out. She gamely got her skis going the right way, but was out of position for Red Tail, the final jump of the course, and was a DNF.
Cook, who won Wednesday’s training, was one of many competitors in the field who had trouble with Kestrel, a turn at the midpoint of Raptor. She came out of that turn in the backseat, losing time.
“Yeah, it’s pretty bumpy and just a hard course to figure out when it changes day-to-day,” Cook said. “It’s just hard to get a grip on it with executing my plan. That happens on new courses.”
Mancuso, who said she hasn’t quite gotten a feel for Raptor yet, did make a boot change, which she liked, and she said she feels good for today’s super-G. Like all of the Americans with early starts, the 2006 Olympic giant-slalom champion cruised on the upper flat before the technical middle section got her.
“I found it difficult everyday, and it didn’t change much,” Mancuso said. “It was another tough day. My run wasn’t my best run for sure, but I think you just have to feel really comfortable and confident. It wasn’t like I made any big mistakes, but it just wasn’t a winning performance.”
Ross found trouble in a double turn located right at what will be the super-G start today, just after The Apex, the first steep of the run.
“There were a bunch of chops in that turn,” Ross said. “Right when you hit those, you kind of get a feeling for what the next 12 downhill turns are going to be like. It was just rough, hold on tight, try to survive, try to maintain your line.”
Eyes on the Olympics
Though it was only the first speed event of the season, the talk in then media corral was about the Olympic push. The Americans are in a nice kind of bind with likely six speedsters vying for four spots in each discipline.
The basic criteria is in order of priority:
• Recording top-three finishes in the discipline on the World Cup in the season running up to the games.
• Top-10 finishes in the discipline.
• World Cup points in the discipline.
• Coaches’ discretion.
Assuming she’s healthy and able to race, Vonn will hold down a spot in both downhill and super-G. Mancuso, given history is a safe bet, but how do Cook, Ross, Smith and Alice McKennis, who’s coming back from a broken leg, all fit?
Though it’s the media’s obsession, Mancuso tamped down speculation.
“It’s definitely a long way off,” she said. “It’s definitely on my mind, especially to have good results to go in there and qualify for the team. It’s a little bit on my mind. It’s still kind of one of those things that’s two months away, and that’s when you really want to peak, unless you’re good all the time. That’s fun too.”
World Cup welcome
While the podium was settled, Wiles was still up top, battling butterflies for her first start. She had family from Oregon as well as locally on hand and came down in 43rd.
While everyone dreams of an Andrew Weibrecht-like day at Beaver Creek — going from the No. 53 bib to 10th, as he did during the 2007 Birds of Prey downhill — it’s not easy coming from the back.
“I’ve been working for this my whole life to get to this position,” Wiles said. “I had really good training runs. I had good command coming into this run. I wasn’t as fast as I wanted to be. I’m OK with that first World Cup down. I know what to expect. I had a lot of fun. I was extremely nervous. I think I had a good first World Cup and something I can improve on.”
Julia Ford returned to the World Cup after a concussion derailed her 2012-13 season. She finished 41st.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 and firstname.lastname@example.org.