Beaver Creek Birds of Prey: Small glimmers lift spirits of U.S team
Special to the Daily
BEAVER CREEK — American ski racing fans eyeballing the results of the first downhill training run at the 2018 Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS Ski World Cup will likely get excited about Thomas Biesemeyer’s finish.
Wearing bib No. 61, the 29-year-old New York native ended up sixth, 0.72 seconds off of the fastest pace on Wednesday, Nov. 28. Yes, he missed a gate. Yes, it was only a training run and yes, there was barely anybody in the finish area to witness the feat. Still, it cast a slim ray of promise on a team that has not been in the spotlight for quite some time.
The American men are more starved for a win than they’ve ever been, and with the more challenging criteria — top 15 World Cup status — to make it on the U.S. Ski Team’s A Team, even the scraps can provide substantial fuel.
“It helps me mentally more than anything else, which is big,” Biesemeyer said after Wednesday’s training. “It doesn’t mean anything in terms of the result sheet, but it means a lot in the sense of coming back from injury and having good feelings and knowing you can be competitive. That’s half the battle.”
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With only three men on the U.S. Alpine Team’s A-list this season — veterans Steven Nyman, Ted Ligety and Travis Ganong, each of whom have earned multiple World Cup podiums and/or FIS Alpine World Ski Championship medals in their careers — the frontline of the domestic battlefield is feeling a little lonely. Nearly all the U.S. men competing at Beaver Creek are on the B Team, meaning they have to partially self-fund travel to World Cup competitions this season.
Coping with injuries, new standards
Biesemeyer was one of several top Americans sidelined with injury last season, his injury (torn Achilles tendon) perhaps the most heartbreaking since it came immediately before what would have been his first Olympic race, a spot he painstakingly fought for after being ousted by injury from the 2014 Winter Games.
Ganong and Nyman also missed out on the Olympics as well as the majority of last season, both tearing knee ligaments. For Nyman, it was his right knee, an injury that arrived virtually on the coattails of his previous injury — torn ligaments in his left knee sustained the previous season. Many of Nyman’s displays of greatness in his injury-riddled career have come at Beaver Creek. He podiumed here in 2007, 2008 and 2015.
Following a respectable 11th place in his first race back from injury on Sunday, Nov. 25, in the Lake Louise, Alberta, downhill, Nyman is both trying to jumpstart his way back to his own potential this season as well as ramp up team morale. This holds true particularly for teammates such as Bryce Bennett, who was demoted from the A Team to the B Team this season once criteria changed (A teamers had only to land in top 25 in the World Cup last season) and Jared Goldberg, who has also made steady progress during his time racing for the U.S. Team and under previous seasons’ criteria, would have made the A Team.
Last season, Nyman said, “guys took steps forward. Jared took steps forward. Bryce took steps forward. But they haven’t tasted winning yet and we want to reinforce that winning mentality. We’re not here to qualify for the A Team or get top 15. We’re here to win.”
While this is clearly easier in theory than it is in practice, it does indeed lift the entire team when one guy does well. Bennett, who was prepared to quit skiing last summer after being demoted from the A Team, said he felt validated last weekend by his season-opening result, finishing 12th in the Lake Louise downhill.
“I was, for sure, in a tough place mentally going in,” Bennett said. “I knew on race day I just had to pull it together for a day. I was able to do that and it relaxed me. It was like, OK. I do have the speed and I’m competitive, so let’s just keep on rolling for the season.”
Is there an I in team?
Let’s remember that in downhill, it’s often less than a second that separates 11th or 12th place from the podium.
With that in mind, yet another glimmer of hope going into this 2018 Birds of Prey week is shining on Ryan Cochran-Siegle. Wearing bib No. 60, the 26-year-old Vermont native finished 22nd in Wednesday’s training. This came after the cross-discipline skier started off the season by notching his best ever speed results in Lake Louise — a 12th place in super-G and 20th in downhill.
A fellow B Team member, Cochran-Siegle says that in his eight years of climbing the ranks of the U.S. Team, one athlete’s success has had a bungee effect on the rest of the team.
“One guy would ski fast, get ahead, we’d all jump on that and get up with him. We’d push ourselves up to those higher levels,” he said. “We all go through the same struggle and it does bring us together pretty close. We’re all at the point where we know we can be better and we want to win.”
Still, when it comes to ski racing, there is an “I” in “team.”
“You love to see your friends do well as long as you’re doing better,” Biesemeyer said. “Still, when someone gets a good result, there’s so much respect toward it. Obviously, there’s going to be envy. You’re going to want that yourself. But when it’s not your time and it’s someone else’s, you’ve got to be happy for them … because you want the same for yourself.”
It feels like time for someone. And there’s no time like the present.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.