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Birds of Prey: Farewell from Beaver Creek

BOP GS Svindal post final run JF 12/7/08
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BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” Good things come to those who wait, and that was certainly the case for Birds of Prey 2008.

We lost the super combined to snow on Thursday ” for the record, Switzerland’s Daniel Albrecht remains the defending champ ” but what followed were three days of enthralling racing at Beaver Creek.

We knew that Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal was going to be one of the big stories coming into the week. Everyone, Aksel included, was just happy that he got down the hill during training on Tuesday. Even everyone in the press corral stopped what they were doing to applaud.



But are you kidding? Downhill win Friday. Super-G win Saturday. Third in the giant slalom Sunday.

Given Svindal’s crash last year, that truly does go up with Hermann Maier’s run from the 1999 Worlds through the 2000 downhill ” six wins in as many starts in Beaver Creek ” and the Bode Miller-Daron Rahlves podium dance of 2004-05 as one of the legendary stories of the Birds of Prey.



What makes it all the more gratifying is that Svindal is liked by his fellow competitors. They were genuinely happy for him this week, though that may change if Svindal continues his rampage in Europe for the rest of the season.

Seriously, this is not always the case. Jealousy builds up. One such example was the stare of death any reporter got when Austria’s Stephan Eberharter was asked about his teammate Maier. Not a pretty sight.

Don’t be surprised to see Svindal takes back the overall globe from Miller come March of next year.



Other thoughts from the week:

– I thought Ted Ligety had it. I was saying, “He’s got it. He’s got it,” as he was crossing the line. One-hundredth of a second short? That comes out to about two inches over a course of 4,806 feet. This is one of many things which makes ski racing great.

– With that in mind, major props to Ligety for the way he handled it. Ted was more gracious than most of us could ever hope to be in such a situation. Maybe, he went somewhere alone and kicked everything in sight ” would you blame him? He signed bibs and programs and posed for pictures with fans and even gave a young girl some racing tips on the bus ride down from Red Tail.

– Never underestimate the impact of an athlete doing such a thing. I still remember getting an autograph when I was something like 7 from San Francisco Giants catcher Mike Sadek. Yes, who? That’s the point. Kids never forget things like that which take only a few seconds of an athlete’s time. I can’t imagine that the girl will ever forget the time that Ligety talked to her about staying forward in her stance when racing.

– This is another special thing about ski racing and an important thing for the sport, especially in the U.S. The fans are close to the athletes and it’s cool to see kids tossing bibs or whatever can be signed to their favorite stars. And while we’re on this subject, while Miller gets some grief for skipping out on the media if he doesn’t podium, credit him for autographing for kids in the mosh pit in front of the grandstand every day this week.

– Back to Ligety, his development as an all-around skier has been dramatic. He’s only 24 even though he seems older because we’ve been seeing him here since 2004. He’s just starting.

– Oh yes, Benni Raich was the guy who actually won the GS Sunday. Given his skills and Austria’s success here, it’s just plain weird that this was his first GS win at the Birds of Prey. What all will remember from this race was the one-hundredth of a second. What we should remember was that Benni (and the Jets, an obligatory reference) made up a 1.05-second deficit.

– Keeping with the Austrians, thank you, Hermann. Depending on how this year plays out ” say a win in Kitzbuehel, Austria ” he’s likely hanging them up. The 2010 Olympics are out there, but the guy has two golds from Nagano, Japan, in 1998. If that was it for Maier at the Birds of Prey, it was a great exit with a silver in the super-G and the pleasure was all ours.

– The same goes for Liechtenstein’s Marco Buechel and Austria’s Michael Walchhofer, two great athletes and class acts. That having been noted, I don’t think Walchhofer’s done by a long shot.

– Funniest moment of the week, part I: Canada’s Erik Guay says, “I’ve never been on the podium here before,” after taking third in Friday’s downhill. Umm, Erik, you forgot about your second place in super-G here in 2005, which was your highest finish in your career to that point. I find this amazing because I remember the time I got a ribbon for tying for fourth in the football throw at the Town School for Boys Track Meet in 1985.

– Funniest moment of the week, part II: Svindal interrupts his news conference after winning the super-G Saturday because of the siren call of drug testing. He actually politely asked for permission from the assembled media to be excused.

– We’ll see you on Dec. 3, 2009 …

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


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