From Maier to Miller to K-Fed
You’ve just finished your turkey. Now it’s time to dig into another smorgasbord. Yes, it’s that time of year again – Birds of Prey. In fact, the course at Beaver Creek is celebrating its 10th year of being a stop on the World Cup. To celebrate, do we give the course a bicycle? How about a Nintendo DS Lite? A cell phone? You know kids these days.We’ll settle for four men’s World Cup races (or possibly more). It’s super combined Thursday, downhill Friday, giant slalom Saturday and slalom Sunday. (All races start at 11 a.m., except for Sunday’s slalom at 9:45 a.m.) So bring on Bode and Ted and the Americans, the Austrian machine, the Norwegians who always race well here and the rest of the world for Birds of Prey 2006.We proudly (sort of) present our annual Top 10 List of things to look for in this year’s installment of racing:
– The biggest question is how many races are we going to have? Despite our lack of early season snowfall, Birds of Prey is all set four its traditional four races. The same cannot be said of early stops in Europe which traditionally follow Beaver Creek. The tour’s traditional opener in Soelden, Austria, in October went by the boards because of no snow. The women’s stop in St. Moritz, Switzerland, set for Dec. 9-10, got scrubbed Saturday, and the men’s races in Val d’Isere, France, scheduled for the same two days as the ladies, are on the rocks. The International Ski Federation (FIS) is expected to make an announcement on Val d’Isere on Wednesday.Rumors about the make-up dates for these races have been flying around Aspen, where the women finished up Sunday, Lake Louise, Alberta, where the men have been racing, and Beaver Creek like those of the Britney Spears-K-Fed breakup. One day, the women’s races look like they’re going to be rescheduled for Aspen, and that the men will be having an extended stay here at Beaver Creek. The next, it sounds like FIS is going to move them all back to Europe at dates to be determined. Then, the rumble is that both the men and women will race at Beaver Creek.
We repeat that these are all rumors. But you might want to stick around past Sunday. The Beav’ has picked up races before, including Daron Rahvles’ “Val d’Isere” downhill win in 2003. Stay tuned.- Speaking of Big D, I will make this prediction and stick to it – Rahlves and Bode Miller or Miller and Rahlves will not go 1-2 in the downhill. I feel pretty good about this one as Rahlves retired after last season. Yeah, I’m biased as far as the two – I like Rahlves better. I’m going to miss Rahlves ripping up Birds of Prey this year.- New for 2006 is the super combined. It replaces the super-G on the slate. I’m mixed on this. I really enjoyed the super-G. It always seemed to come out with a fun, strange twist – Norway’s Bjarne Solbakken in 2003, Stephan Goergl in 2004 and Hannes Reichelt in 2005. Those were all their first World Cup wins.That having been said, it’s about time we had a combined here. The men have never had a combined in the United States during the regular World Cup tour – World Championships don’t count toward that ditty.
– The concept of a combined race brings us to Ted Ligety. First off, we at the Vail Daily promise to use no version of “Ligety-split” in a headline or a story this year. We’ve beaten that one to death, and the Olympic champion in this discipline deserves better. Last year, joined a string of Americans to have surprise good showings at Birds of Prey with a bronze in slalom. Little did we know that the performance was a prelude to Torino in February. Expectations are high for Ligety this week. – High expectations are a natural segue to Hermann Maier. From 1997-2000, the Heminator’s run of success at Birds of Prey was absolutely insane. Starting on Dec. 6, 1997 with a super-G through a downhill on Dec. 12, 2000, his Maier-ness won seven straight starts in Beaver Creek. His only non-gold during that run was a DNF at the 1999 Worlds GS on International in Vail. Had they held the Worlds GS at Birds of Prey, he probably would have won. In fact, he won GS 10 months later in Beaver Creek as part of his streak.Maier recovered from a motorcycle accident and won a downhill again in 2003 at his own personal playground here. In 19 starts at Birds of Prey, he has a stunning 18 top-10 finishes. It makes you think the guy’s not human.He is, of course. He turns 34 on Dec. 7. When he didn’t win a race here in 2004, I thought it was just an off year. Last year was his “worst” showing at the Beav, not really in contention with two eighths and a 19th-place finish. Maier is coming off two top-10s in Lake Louise, and his place is alpine history is secure. But I’d love to see Maier win one more time here.
– We now issue our standard warning. Everyone knows the Austrians are the skiers to beat. Most in the crowd will be rooting for the Americans. Please do not forget the Norweigians. Every year, we overlook them. Every year, they “surprise” us. Stop the insanity, please. Lasse Kjus, one of the all-time greats has retired. Everyone forgets that in Vail ’99, Maier got the headlines, but Kjus won a record five medals.The Norweigians keep coming. Look out for Solbakken and Aksel Lund Svindal.- The real surprise team for our money could be the Canadians. They fared well here last year. John Kucera took gold on home snow in Sunday’s super-G in Lake Louise. There is a big push on with the Canadian Ski Team with Vancouver, British Columbia, hosting the 2010 Winter Games. Watch out for The Great White North.- Continuing the guessing game, let’s talk weather. Given our very mild-November weather, it’s got to dump this week. This is just the law of averages coming into play. Weather.com has a winter warning posted for today through mid-Wednesday with 12-24 inches on the way. Powder hounds, rejoice, while the course crew gets busy. We’ll see if the athletes can get both downhill training runs in Tuesday and Wednesday, but after last year, I don’t bet against the Beaver creek race crew. How they got the downhill and the GS off last year was just a miraculous as Miller’s and Rahlves’ podium dance.
– And now to the mystery that is wrapped in an enigma known as Bode Miller. Who knows what the heck he’s going to do? He started well here last year, and promptly tanked. A bit of advice, Bode, don’t get plowed before a race, talk about it on “60 Minutes” and then complain about unwanted publicity. If you want to be a bad boy, that’s fine. Back it up with your skiing.- Finally, the United States Skiing Association has banned alcohol at team functions. We assume that rule would be lifted in the case of an American podium celebration. We hope to see it.Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or email@example.com.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO