Familiarity not a factor with this
ASPEN – Before they get their first chance to run the daunting Birds of Prey downhill course in a World Cup race, the guys on the U.S. Ski Team know the pitch pat.They train on the hill coming up the ranks and forerun the course when they are on the “B” and “C” teams.The women, however, don’t have the same luxury in Aspen.”I did run it seven years ago for a NorAm Series race, but it was a very different course, and I don’t remember much,” said Stacey Cook, who had the sixth-fastest time in Thursday’s training run.On Wednesday, the women got a look at the course during the first day of training. And upon first glance, they felt pretty good.”Everyone was pleasantly surprised by how demanding it was,” Cook said. “It’s fast and has big turns, and the best skier is going to win on this course. There aren’t going to be any funky results. It demands the most elements.”So maybe the advantage is in the U.S. court after all.”This course is really technical,” said Libby Ludlow, who primarily skis super-G. “There are barely any flats, which suits my skiing well. It’s fast and hard and going to be a lot of fun.”With Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso, who have been consistently at the top of speed races, the U.S. has some clear favorites, along with skiers like Cook, who has been looking good during training this week.”I think our team is technically one of the best,” Cook said. “And this course suits our team as a whole, so we do have that going for us.”Considering the last women’s downhill race in Aspen was in March 1988, nobody racing today has seen Ruthie’s much. The even playing field bodes well for the U.S. team’s Leanne Smith, who was only 1 year old during that race.”On the first day of inspection, I came out and had no idea what to expect,” said Smith, who was 23rd in her first World Cup downhill last weekend. “Once you do the first run, it’s a lot easier to work off of. All you have to do is feel what the course is like and go from there.”The U.S. squad has been prepping as much as possible this week, using video analysis to track their runs.”(On Wednesday) night, I had a good video session and learned a lot from that,” Cook said. “For a new course, you have to focus. Wednesday night and (Thursday) morning, I went out with an attitude and said I was motivated by Andrew Weibrecht’s run last week. I said I’ve got to do that in these sessions.”At last week’s Birds of Prey, Weibrecht gave the home crowd at Beaver Creek something to watch, coming from the No. 53 bib and crashing into the top 10.
Patrick Riml, the U.S. women’s head alpine coach, thinks the U.S. still has a big advantage skiing in Aspen.”The great thing for us is we race at home – they have a fan base and support. I think everybody is super excited at home,” Riml said. “We haven’t had a World Cup downhill here forever, and everyone is excited about that.”And much like the men at Beaver Creek, the women may have to rely on some course work to keep the downhill alive. Snow showers are in the forecast through Saturday.”I’m torn because I’m a powder skier,” Cook said. “I love powder, but for the race’s sake, we don’t want it to snow. I think the crew is good, so we won’t have a problem of getting (the race) off.”Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at email@example.com or 748-2935.