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Happy Birds of Prey 2005

Bring on the cowbells, the parmesan cheese, American flags, banners of pigs for Austria’s Hermann Maier and the rest of the Austrian team for that matter. Let us Prey. We’ve got four races in four days, starting Thursday with the best men’s skiers in the world on one of the slicker, steeper courses on the World Cup circuit – Birds of Prey.From the home office in Red Tail Camp at 8,850 feet. Here are the top-10 things to look for this week:

— It is an Olympic year, which means that the rest of America will actually be paying attention to skiing after a four-year layoff since the 2002 Salt Lake Games. Is this week a preview of Torino come Feb. 10-26, 2006?In a word, no. Yes, four of the five disciplines will be contested. By the way, why can’t we just tack on a combined here to make it a clean sweep? But there are two reasons this isn’t what we’re going to be seeing in Italy.First, it’s too early in the season. Last year, Bode Miller blew out of the gates with speed wins at Lake Louise, Alberta, (super G and downhill) and another downhill win at Birds of Prey. If you made predictions based on those results last year, Miller would have won the overall by a good 1,000 points since conventional wisdom at the time was that he was best at the technical events – giant slalom and slalom.

As it turns out, because Miller didn’t fare well in the technical events in 2004-05, the overall went down to the World Cup Finals. Seven races do not a season make.Second, the Olympic field is going to be different than what we see this week. The Birds of Prey field is going to be much larger than what will go down in Torino. Sure, it’s a pretty safe bet that Maier, Miller and Daron Rahlves will be there. But each country only sends four athletes in each discipline to the Games. We don’t know what the field will be come February.– Who’s it going to be? It’s going to be somebody. The Birds of Prey has produced surprise winners the last two years. In 2003, Norway’s Bjarne Solbakken got his first World Cup win in a snowy slalom. Last year, Austria’s Stephan Goergl came from nowhere to win the super G. Who’s it going to be in 2005? Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?



— OK, the Americans have two definite favorites in Miller and Rahlves. But what about the rest of the men? Ted Ligety started well last month in Soelden, Austria. Good, but if you want to live up to the motto, “Best in the World,” depth would be nice. We need to see more Americans in the points this week.– Speaking of depth, a brief turn to the ladies who are up at Lake Louise for two DHs and a SG this week. There’s more depth on the women’s side, led by Vail’s Linsdsey Kildow. If you want to make predictions about Torino, she’s the one. She’s going to be a household name after the Games. The ladies make their only American appearance in Aspen Dec. 9-11. Get well soon, Sarah Schleper.– Who’s going down where? They don’t call it Birds of Prey for nothing. The Pumphouse has taken out its fair share of racers. The Abyss was deadly to Miller in 2003. You even have to watch the top stretch of the course before The Flyaway. That’s where Rahlves beat Maier in a transplanted DH from Val D’Isere, France, in 2003. Also watch for places like Harrier Jump and Red Tail Jump in the technical events. These are going to be steep GS and SL races.

— What does Mother Nature have in store? Snow showers on Thursday and Friday and sunny skies Saturday and Sunday, not too bad for this time of year. But keep your eyes on the skies because if a system moves through, a racer’s bib number is going to come into play. (See Solbakken, Bjarne, 2003 SL.)– The Herminator returns. Maier is most comfortable at the Beav. Prior to last year’s quartet of races, the Austrian had eight wins in 13 starts at the Birds of Prey, including a triumphant DH win in 2003 after a motorcycle accident. He didn’t win last year. Maier’s best finish was second in the GS, 0.16 seconds behind Norway’s Lasse Kjus in a Vail ’99 retro show. We’ll hear from Hermann before this week is done.– It should be noted that Maier is not the only Austrian out there. The Red and White is deep as evidenced by Gorgl’s surprise win last year. Michael Walchhofer and Benjamin Raich are equally as capable of topping the podium as the Herminator.



While we’re talking teams, please do not forget about Norway. It is our standard yearly disclaimer. Trust us on this one.– Daron Rahlves has already predicted victory in the DH Friday. Will he? In his last three DHs in Beaver Creek, he’s been first, fourth and second, the latter time being last year with Miller winning. The Californian considers this his hill and takes a lot of pride in it. Advantage Rahlves come Friday.– Which Bode will we see this week? In 2003, he was a flameout here. Last year, golden in the downhill. The guy is just maddening. Just when you think you’ve got him figured out – OK, he’s a technical skier – he goes out and wins the super-G title. Just when you think he’s finally reaching that level of consistent skiing, he’ll do something stupefying which will result in a DNF. All we can guarantee you is that it will be a good show no matter what.

— Since I was 0-for-4 last year in predictions, there’s no where to go but up. (I did have Rahlves in the DH and Maier in the GS and they finished second.) Super G: Maier; DH: Rahlves; GS: Marco Buechel; SL: Miller.Vail, ColoradoSports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14630 or cfreud@vaildaily.com.


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