Giant slalom caps Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado Local race fans are getting a little spoiled.No, were not talking about the last two days of racing, which have been fantastic theater. Its about the Americans at Beaver Creek.Ive heard the talk about how some are disappointed that the Americans havent made the podium yet during this years installment of Birds of Prey, and will todays giant slalom, starting at 9:45 a.m., be the race were they break through?Wow, we are suffering from some serious short-term memory, people.It was only five years ago that Daron Rahlves became the first American to win at Birds of Prey, and the first from ye olde home team to win on American snow since Phil Mahre in the early-80s.Rahlves win in 2003 came in transplanted Val dIsere downhill, moved because of Frances lack of snow. Then Big D and Bode started their dance. In 2004, it was Miller-Rahlves going 1-2. The two flipped in 2005, and his Bode-ness won in 2006, one of four Americans in the top 10.So when Steve Nyman finishes only seventh in the downhill hes only 26, people its a disappointment? Nope. (Hes going to win here soon. Mark it down.)Is Ted Ligety finishing seventh in super-G, a career-best in the discipline, not good enough? (Youve been standing out in the snow too long if you think that.)You should have been here before 2002 when the Vail Dailys stories on the Americans read like, Our guy led the team in 18th! In 2002, when Rahlves broke through, finishing third, you could barely tell who actually won that downhill from our coverage. (Austrias Stephan Eberharter.)Fairly or unfairly, most of the burden so far this week has rode on the shoulders of Bode Miller. Hes had a solid week so far a DNF on Screech Owl, where a lot of racers went out in the downhill and 14th in super-G. As far as the latter goes, it was pretty miraculous that he finished Saturday, given that he brushed the snow twice near Pumphouse.Yes, there are times when Id like to hit Bode over the head with a shovel for being too aggressive, but Bodes 31 and thats not changing if it hasnt already.Whats more, thats what makes him compelling theater.Bringing this back to being a story about todays GS, everyone remembers the Americans winning the downhill here, but do you recall Miller in the 2005 giant slalom? He should have been down numerous times that snowy day, but rebounded for a literally incredible win.What Hermann Maier happy birthday has done in past years at Beaver Creek is a once-in-a-generation thing, and Aksel Lund Svindal is in one of those Im in my happy place zones, and deservedly so.So cut Bode and the Americans a break.And by the way, Ligety won the GS globe last season, so theres a lot of reason for hope.Some other notes on todays GS:Weather: 37 degrees, according to Weather.com. For those planning on attending next years Birds of Prey, plan on 5-below everyday after this years pleasant temperatures. Past champions: Maier (1999), Lasse Kjus (2004 and 1999 Worlds in Vail), Miller (2005), Massilmilliano Blardone (2006) and Daniel Albrecht (2007).GS stats: Racers drop 1,407 feet from a starting elevation of 10,351. The course is nearly a mile long at 4,806 feet. The homologation number today is 8590/10/07, marking the only time we will use the word homologation in 2008.No. of racers: 70 the top-30 go on to the second run at 12:30 p.m.Intervals: Golden Eagle and The Abyss.Watch out on the GS: The Pumphouse greets racers right out of the gate, and given Saturdays carnage there, it could be an issue. From experience, though, its all about holding on to speed in the last few gates before the finish.Americans (bib No.): Ligety (2), Miller (13), Erik Schlopy (37), Jimmy Cochran (44), Jake Zamansky (45), and T.J. Lanning (62).Favorites: Umm, Ligety and Miller. Betting against Svindal (4) seems like a bad idea these days. Blardones (1) GS specialist and Mario Matt was second here last year.Dark horses: Didier Cuche (5) just loves this hill. Albrecht (7) is defending his title. And then theres Benni Raich. The Austrian has 30 career wins, 11 in GS, yet has never won at Beaver Creek. Is it time?Staff picks Saturdays picks and finishesChris Freud, sports editor: Svindal, first (Ill be signing autographs today.)Austin Richardson, Web editor: Miller, 14th.Ian Smith, sports writer: Reichelt, 10thSundays picksFreud: Svindal has a hat trick. Richardson: Cuche skis to glory.Smith: Ligety sends the locals home happy.Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or email@example.com.