Beaver Creek World Cup: Is there cause for hope for American men? Maybe.
BEAVER CREEK — It’s early.
Just keep reminding yourself it’s early.
But, if you’re an American ski-racing fan you almost feel like cuing up the opening credits of the original “Star Wars.”
Episode IV: A New Hope.
“It is a period of civil war (or domination of European ski teams). Rebel spaceships (aka the U.S. Ski Team), striking from a hidden base (Beaver Creek), have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire (Europe).”
Yes, that’s over the top. Europe isn’t evil, and the Americans didn’t win during Friday, Nov. 30’s Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS Ski World Cup downhill, but the U.S. Men’s Ski Team, coming off an awful 2017-18 season, may be showing some signs of life.
The red, white and blue had two in the top 10 — Steven Nyman and Bryce Bennett tied for ninth. At last year’s Birds of Prey, the team’s highest finish in the two speed events was 21st — Bennett in the downhill and the now retired Andrew Weibrecht in super-G.
The thing that gives a fan confidence is that Friday marks two good weeks in a row for the duo. Bennett was 12th last week at Lake Louise, Alberta. Nyman was 11th.
Perhaps, is this the beginning of some consistency?
We may get an answer soon. The next stop on the speed side is Val Gardena, Italy, during the second week of December. All of Nyman’s three career World Cup have come there. Bennett’s also a big fan of that course. His best World Cup finish is sixth there in 2015.
For the time being, though, it seems that Nyman is healthy. He said earlier this week that he probably came back too early last year and didn’t have the confidence to let it go.
Meanwhile, Travis Ganong, the most accomplished speedster of the men, is still coming back from his ACL injury. As he said, he’s only 10 months into what is normally an 18-month process.
He’ll get comfortable and the speed will come, and that gives the U.S. Team three threats for the top 10.
It’s early, but the U.S. speed team should be able to break its podium drought soon.
It’s an outdoor sport and weather plays a role. Using the weather start, or starting Friday’s downhill at a lower altitude, was the correct choice, but it does lead to some interesting hypotheticals.
• If the start was all the way at the top, does Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal leap from third to first, taking advantage of the flats up top? Svindal was gracious in the post-race news conference, giving winner Beat Feuz all of the credit.
• Does having raced essentially the super-G course on Friday give anyone an advantage for the actual super-G on Saturday, Dec. 1? We ask because six first-time winners have won the super-G. Do the veterans use the downhill as a pseudo-super-G training run?
And, by the way, good call by FIS and the Vail Valley Foundation for moving the downhill to Friday. They got the race in, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed for the super-G on Saturday.
Lake Louise report
• It looks like Mikaela Shiffrin will finish ninth in the first of two downhills up in Lake Louise on Friday. In a small way — really small — it’s a disappointing result, given that she was third and first in the Lake Louise downhills last year. But that’s really nitpicking.
Realistically, a ninth-place finish just makes for bonus points for Shiffrin. Even without the 312 points she earned in speed events last year, Shiffrin would still have won the overall, 1,411-1,168 over Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener.
• Meanwhile, Lindsey Vonn announced on Friday that she will postpone her retirement to compete in the 2019 Lake Louise races. That’s apropos as she’s won 18 times there. Here’s hoping that she already surpassed Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86 World Cup wins — she’s at 82 — before she goes north. Vonn should be allowed to have some fun at “Lake Lindsey” in her finale.