Austrians grow up to be stars
Vail, CO Colorado
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” Once upon a time, the members of the Austrian Ski Team weren’t so tough. It’s hard to believe, but they had to learn to put on a pair of boots and skis just like everyone else.
Unfortunately for the rest of the skiing world, it didn’t take them long to figure out how to go fast ” very fast. Now, the team dominates the World Cup circuit.
It probably helps that in Austria, they start young. While most little kids in the United State dream of becoming the next John Elway or Derek Jeter, in Austria, it’s Hermann Maier.
“When I was a young boy, at the junior races, I was looking to get like Hermann Maier,” Hannes Reichelt, the defending Birds of Prey super-G champion, said. “When I came to the World Cup, my goal was to be faster (than him).”
Reichelt started cruising around the mountain at the ripe age of 2-and-half-years-old. Michael Walchhofer, the defending Birds of Prey downhill title holder, did his first run when he was 4-years old. Similar stories abound on the most talented ski team in the world.
“The whole ski area was a playground,” Walchhofer said. “We were skiing all the time. We were everywhere on the ski area.”
Mom knows best
When Reichelt first put on his skis, one of the best teachers around instructed him down the hill ” his mom. Only a couple of years later, at age 5, he was competing in child races.
There was only one problem.
Reichelt, now more than 6-feet tall, was too small. As the other kids continued to grow in height and weight, Reichelt fell behind. He reached the podium on occasion, but didn’t win nearly as much as he would’ve liked.
Still, that didn’t stop him from following his love of skiing. Finally, at age 16, he hit his growth spurt, and wins followed.
In 2008, Reichelt won the super-G World Cup.
“It’s really cool when you can make your hobby your job,” he said.
Always the fastest
Walchhofer spent his childhood zooming around a ski resort conveniently located in his hometown. He entered his first races when he was 8-years-old.
“It was just for fun,” Walchhofer said. “I did it because it was nice to beat the other guys, especially in that age, there isn’t big pressure. The youths now, they normally get a lot of pressure from parents. I never had pressure from my parents. It was never a problem.”
Even though it was “just for fun”, Walchhofer piled up the victories. As he said, he was almost always the fastest. With confidence in his tremendous abilities, Walchhofer entered ski school at age 11.
The rest is history. He won the Downhill World Cup in both 2005 and 2006.
The two Birds of Prey veterans have some lofty expectations coming into this week. Both defending champions in their respective best disciplines, they hoping to be standing on the top spot of the podium again this week.
“In the downhill, I will fight for the victory,” Walchhofer said.
“To stay on the podium here is for sure a goal,” Reichelt added. “To get the victory in super-G is my dream. To get it is a hard job. Hopefully, I will get lucky and do it again.”
Familiarity with the Birds of Prey course give both an advantage. Walchhofer plans on competing in today’s super combined to give himself yet another glimpse of the downhill course.
“It’s a course with all the parts you need,” Walchhofer said. “The glide section is an interesting technical part ” good jumps. You have to be good in all different things, that’s the important thing.”
Reichelt thinks the number of the turns in the super-G might be his key to another victory.
“I like this course because it is a lot of turns ” difficult turns,” he said. “That’s especially what I can do good ” making turns. Maybe, that’s the reason.”
Walchhofer get the first chance to defend his title on Friday, with the downhill starting at 11 a.m. The super-G is Saturday at 11 a.m.
Sports Writer Ian Smith can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.