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Birds of Prey flies into Beaver Creek

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Hermann, Aksel and Bode are coming to town, and we’re ready.

And don’t forget Didier, Stevie Ny and Air Canada/The Crazy Canucks.

Welcome to Birds of Prey 2008 at Beaver Creek, where the best skiers in the world convene for a week of racing starting with Tuesday’s training run and Thursday’s super combined.

To get you up to speed, here’s our annual top-10 list from Red Tail on what to expect this year.

– Welcome back, Aksel Lund Svindal. The Norwegian arrived here a year ago as the defending World Cup overall champ. On the first day of Birds of Prey downhill training, Svindal lost control on Golden Eagle and broke his nose and cheekbone and one of his skis tore into his left leg. Season over.

Svindal’s back, and in solid form. He had good training runs up in Lake Louise Alberta, last week and was seventh in the downhill there. He won the super-combi here in 2006 and has seven top-10 finishes here, which is sort of what you’d expect of one of the best, well, overall skiers in the world.

A win or a podium would be sweet for Svindal.

– Of course, the skiers by whom all are measured at Beaver Creek is Austria’s Hermann Maier. And welcome back, Hermann. The Herminator struck gold Sunday in Lake Louise in super-G for his 54th World Cup win and first victory since 2006 in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

This win immediately puts him right back into contender status in Friday’s downhill and Saturday’s super-G, though it’s not like he isn’t on the top of a list of favorites whenever the World Cup comes here.

Maier has eight career wins at Birds of Prey ” including two golds during Vail ’99 ” 19 finishes in the top 10 and has finished only once outside of the top 20 in 25 career starts at Beaver Creek.

Maier hasn’t won here since 2003 ” which really sounds like sniveling because of his lofty standards. Maier turns 36 on Sunday, the day of this year’s giant slalom. Like Ted Williams homering in his final at-bat, we want to see it one more time. By the way, if you’re looking for the real Hollywood ending, yes, Maier won a GS here in 1999.

– We listed a bunch of names at the beginning of this missive, but Switzerland’s Daniel Albrecht doesn’t have a nickname. He should work on that because he won here twice last year (super-combi and GS) for his first wins on the regular tour. Win No. 3 came in Soelden, Austria, in the season-opening GS.

Dan the Man? We’ll work on that.

Also under the radar is Austria’s Hannes Reichelt. He really likes this place, especially in super-G. His two World Cup wins just happen to have been at Birds of Prey, 2005 and 2007.

What rhymes with Reichelt?

– Reichelt led an Austrian stampede in last year’s super-G. The Austrians swept the top-three, took six of the top seven and seven in the top 13, and none of those skiers was named Hermann Maier. Benni Raich, Mario Scheiber, Christoph Gruber, take your pick. We’ll be hearing from one or many of them this week. And lest we forget, Michael Walchhofer is defending his birds of Prey downhill title.

– The snow has arrived, but will it go away? The general rule with covering Birds of Prey is that either everyone’s skis don’t make it through customs coming down from Canada or at least one day of training is wiped out by snow. Usually, the latter happens, but the former actually occurred in 2003.

Weather.com says there’s a chance of snow showers throughout the week, which is not exactly helpful. That’s sort of like saying there’s a chance of fog in San Francisco during the summer. Your guess is as good as ours.

– We interrupt our regularly-scheduled Birds of Prey schedule to remind you that the ladies are racing up in Lake Louise this week. Lindsey Vonn to the white courtesy phone, please.

The Ski Club Vail product owns that hill ” four downhill wins in as many years. Can we just put her down for five? As for the overall, Madama Vonn has already won a slalom and finished fourth in two other technical races in Aspen? Yikes.

And speaking of locals, a serious atta-girl for Sarah Schleper for 13th in GS in Aspen last weekend. Way to go, Mom.

– This space is usually reserved for warning you about how good the skiers from Norway are, but we’ve already done this with Svindal. So we serve notice about the Canadians. Yes, The Crazy Canucks (their name from the 70s) or Air Canada, as Erik Guay joked last year, have a good record here. There’s also the fact that they’re gearing up for the Winter Olympics in 2008.

Watch out for Guay, John Kucera and Michael Janyk.

– Bode Miller? You want insight? I dunno. The defending men’s overall champ was 10th in Soelden and second in Levi, Finland, in the tech disciplines. The Bodester finished 16th in downhill Saturday and didn’t finish Sunday. It’s a good start and it’s good to see him in the points most of the time.

Given his track record at the Beav,’ expect a little bit of everything. If you can make a pick for super combi ” a gesture full of folly ” he’s the one. But anyone who saw 2006 hesitates. After blowing a 2-second lead, all his Bode-ness did was come back and win the downhill the next day.

– Not that Miller isn’t American, but he’s skiing as an independent again, so what about Team USA? Steve Nyman in the downhill? He’s won in Val Gardena, Italy, in 2006 and has been on the podium the last two years here. Is this the year he joins Daron Rahlves and Miller as the American champs of Birds of Prey?

Ted Ligety? He was third in GS in 2006 and fourth last year. The one who shall not be called Ligety-Split has three wins in GS and was third in Soelden. Hmmm …

– And then there is the American we never see coming. Last year, I was at a media gathering with the U.S. Ski Team, sitting in a nice comfy chair next to some guy named Andrew Weibrecht. I’d already talked to the guys I needed. Who cared about Andrew what’s-his-name?

Skiing with bib No. 53, Weibrecht finished 10th in the downhill, making me feel very dumb. Some American will make a name for himself this week. By the way, Andrew, this year, don’t ski through one the downhill gates.

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

Birds of Prey 2008

Tuesday

Downhill training No. 1, 11 a.m.

Wednesday

Downhill training No. 2, 11 a.m.

Thursday

Super combined, 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

Friday

Downhill, 11 a.m.

Saturday

Super-G, 11 a.m.

Sunday

Giant slalom, 9:45 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.


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