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Birds of Prey 2011 starts early

WC Andrew Weibrecht, downhill SM 11-30-07
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More Birds of Prey training? Why not?

The International Ski Federation (FIS) announced Monday evening at an impromptu captain’s meeting that it will be adding a day of training today at 11 a.m. to the Birds of Prey program. The key rule to remember is that the field has to have a day training on a course for a downhill to be held.

The weather forecast for today looks perfect. Wednesday looks windy, a concern when racers are going off Birds of Prey jumps, and there’s a 40 percent chance of snow for Thursday. All involved are erring on the side of caution, so that Friday’s downhill – knock wood, the weather forecast looks good – can go off with out a hitch.



In the meantime, a look into the history of Birds of Prey with a glimpse toward this week.

Past is prologue, people.



• Hermann Maier, 2003: Maier will always be the king of the Birds of Prey. No one has ever dominated this hill like the Herminator. The guy won six-straight starts here from 1997-2000. But then he busted up his leg in a motorcycle accident and his career was likely done. Yet Maier came back and won the 2003 downhill here. Cinderella stories do happen.

Speaking of Hermann, he was a part of one of my favorite podiums ever at Beaver Creek. In 2004, Norway’s Lasse Kjus, Maier and Austria’s Benni Raich went 1-2-3 in the giant slalom.

The lesson here is never forget the so-called “old” guys. A name to remember for this week is Switzerland’s Didier Cuche. He’s 37, and skiing like he’s 27. Second in last year’s overall, he’s medaled here the last four years. (And let the record state, I wrote this portion of the piece before Cuche won the Lake Louise, Alberta, downhill Saturday.)



• So, after Maier destroyed everyone here in the late 90s, no one was going to exhibit Hermann-like dominance at Birds of Prey again, right? Well, in 2009, Switzerland’s Carlo Janka did. He swept the weekend that year with wins in the super-combined, the downhill and GS, which helped vault him to the 2010 overall. An encore last year here was a little much, but he’s not a bad bet for this weekend.

• Cuche was second and Janka third in the overall in 2010-11. No.1? Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic. When you think of Kostelic, you generally think of the slalom, which will not be contested here this weekend. But here’s a little nugget. Kostelic was third last season in the super-G points behind Cuche and Austria’s Georg Streitberger.

That alone is a reason not to count out Kostelic in Saturday’s race. There’s also the unpredictability of the super-G, especially at Beaver Creek. Streitberger won last year’s super-G here, only the second win of his career. And he’s just the beginning of a list of surprise winners of this race – Norway’s Bjarne Solbakken (2003), Austria’s Stephan Goergl (2004) and teammate Hannes Reichelt (2005) all got their first career wins in super-G here. (Reichelt got win No. 2 here in 2007, for good measure.) Good luck picking this one.

• Bode Miller – This guy is always an adventure here. He and Daron Rahlves played pass the podium in 2004 and 2005 – Miller and Rahlves going 1-2 in the former and switching places in the latter. A day later in 2005, Miller had one of the most ridiculous sets of GS runs we’ve ever seen on his way to another gold. In 2006, Miller completely blew the super-combined only to come back and win the downhill the next day like nothing had happened.

There is a tendency to think that Miller’s best days are behind him. It certainly seemed that way in 2009 here. His Bode-ness looked pretty poor here and very much out of shape. As it turned out, he was just warming up on his way to three medals at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Never count him out.

• While Miller’s a tough guy to figure, you can pretty much set your watch – remember those things that told you the time before you got a cellphone – by Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal. The Norwegian has good and bad memories of Birds of Prey. He was the beneficiary of Bode’s bonk in the super-combined in 2006. In 2007, he owned the overall globe until he went off Golden Eagle in a spectacular season-ending crash.

He came back in 2008 and won the downhill and super-G. He has eight consecutive top-10s at Birds of Prey, so he’s definitely in the mix. (And Svindal won Sunday’s super-G at Lake Louise with Cuche second.)

• Weibrecht’s wild ride: In the 2007, young Andrew Weibrecht wore the No. 53 bib and somehow careened his way down the hill into 10th. (Google the video, people.) This brings us to the topic of Americans and the downhill. The home team has four DH wins here, but none since 2006.

Yes, it’s ridiculous to expect an American to win the only downhill of the year on American snow, but the bigger question is “Who’s next?” Rahlves cemented his role as our country’s best downhiller, but who follows? Steve Nyman looked to be that guy, but injuries, including a torn Achilles earlier this month at Copper, have shelved him.

Weibrecht has injured both of his shoulders the last two years, but still has a bronze medal from Vancouver in the super-G. Marco Sullivan, who is a diehard Sam Francisco Giants fan – attaboy – lost most of last year with a concussion and a knee injury.

We hope to see “the next” emerge soon.

• Not “that” Ligety moment: All eyes will be on Ted Ligety during Sunday’s GS. After years of being close to win on home snow, Ligety did it last year here. It was a great win, one that helped him to another GS globe. But what made it so sweet was that in 2008, he lost this race by one-hundredth of a second.

About the only thing you can do in one-hundredth of a second is blink. That was the margin between winning and losing. And yet, Ligety did all the interviews, all the photos and all the autographs. Quality moment.

What moments join these this week?

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or cfreud@vaildaily.com.


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