Birds of Prey flies into Beaver Creek
Vail, CO Colorado
BEAVER CREEK – So, what next?
One of the things I’ve found when it comes to Birds of Prey, which hits town this week, is that the stories seem to write themselves.
Heck, just last year, the men’s World Cup returned to Beaver Creek, where Norway’s Aksel Lund-Svindal went off with a splatter that nearly ended his career. All he did in his return was in 2008 to Birds of Prey was win the super-G and the downhill and take bronze in giant slalom.
Hollywood would have rejected that script for being too corny.
“Well, if I wrote it myself, I probably would have won the last two races (in Lake Louise, Alberta, last week) as well,” Svindal joked after winning the downhill.
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The whole gang’s here – Aksel, the Austrians, the Americans, the Canadians and the Swiss – with two days of training, beginning on Wednesday. The super combined is Friday, followed by downhill Saturday and GS Sunday. All start times are 11 a.m. except for 9:45 a.m. for GS.
Here’s a little of what to look for this week.
• Hermann Maier will not win this week. I feel good about this prediction, which is really rare in ski racing. The Herminator retired this fall after dominating Birds of Prey pretty much since its inception – eight career wins here – on his way to being the best racer of our generation. We miss him already.
That said, the Austrians never are rebuilding. Benni Raich is your defending GS champ here, having edged America’s Ted Ligety by one-hundredth of a second. Raich is a threat in a any discipline. Michael Walchhoffer was running well up in Lake Louise, Alberta, the site of the first speed events of the season, last weekend. He won the downhill here in 2007.
And just keep going gown the list … Mario Scheiber, Christoph Gruber and so on. They’re scary good.
• What does Svindal do for an encore? He’s the defending overall champion with his run to the globe, beginning here last year. He clearly has put his nightmarish crash behind him. Maier all but anointed him as his successor when they went 1-2 in super-G here last year. He is still nursing a leg bruise, so it’s pretty hard to imagine what the guy can do that he didn’t last year.
Wait a minute … he didn’t win the super-combi last year – it was snowed out. He did take the event in 2006 here. Switzerland’s Daniel Albrecht is the defending SC champ at Birds of Prey and we continue to wish him a speedy recovery from his Kitzbuehel crash last year.
• This week also marks our annual venture into meteorology, where we are usually as successful as actual weather people – ugh. With not much natural snow and cold temperatures, the course is perfect for racing now. On the other hand, as John Dakin, who is the Birds of Prey’s media chief, so aptly puts it, “You want snow, hold a downhill.”
It is Bids of Prey tradition that at least a day of training gets wiped out by a storm, but we’ll be looking to the skies and the Web. While local skiers might be grumpy with us, let it dump, starting at about 2 p.m. on Sunday.
• Happy Olympic year. Yes, America, alpine skiing is a sport again for a little while. As a reminder to everyone, this is not technically the Olympic field we’ll be seeing on the tube in Vancouver, British Columbia. Countries may enter only four racers in each discipline at the Games. That means one of the subplots of this week, and every week as we approach February, is that racers from every country will be jockeying for spots on their respective teams.
• O Canada: Speaking of which, The Great White North has been gearing up for 2010 for quite a while now. Canadians like Erik Guay and Manuel Osborne-Paradis love this track and usually get a bounce from racing on home snow in Lake Louise the previous week. Case in point – Osborne Paradise won Sunday’s super-G and Guay was fourth.
• O Canada, part II: While the gents race here, the ladies are in Lake Louise, which means “Lindsey Vonn to the white courtesy phone, please.” Madama Vonn has won a downhill there five-straight years there. Do we hear six? We’ll find out in Friday’s and Saturday’s races, which run right after the events here. (Unofficially, we have Renate Goetschl winning nine times in Cortina, Italy, as the record for wins at one site.)
• We welcome back Bode Miller to the U.S. Ski Team after two years as skiing as an independent. What does his Bode-ness do this week? Trying to predict that makes meteorology look like an exact science.
We’ll say this: Have a fantastic year, Bode. At 32, this may be the last go-round for him with the Olympics, and we’d like to see him end it with a blaze of glory.
• As for Miller and the rest of the Americans, let’s tamp down the expectations for this week. Of course, we want Bode, Steven Nyman and Ligety to do well on home snow, but the Daron Rahlves-Bode Miller Show from 2003-06 here – the two traded downhill wins during this time – raised the bar a little too high.
Nyman has a bronze (2006), a silver (2007) and was seventh here in the downhill last year. Ligety has gone third, fourth and second in the last three giant slaloms here. Both of these guys are going to win at Beaver Creek. It’s just a matter of time.
• Three names you must remember this week – Marco Buechel (Liechtenstein), Didier Cuche (Switzerland) and Patrik Jaerbyn (Sweden). This trio may be a bit long in the tooth in the world of skiing, but do not be surprised to see them on the podium.
Cuche won super-G in 2002 here and has three other podiums, and he won last weekend’s downhill in Lake Louise. He loves this downhill course. Buechel, at 37, nabbed silver in last year’s downhill. And this is pretty much a home race for Jaerbyn. The Swedish skier actually lives in Edwards. If he were to win this week, he would accomplish something that even Hermann Maier never did – triumph at Birds of Prey and win an Eagle Ranch golf men’s league event in one year.
Sports editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.