Healthy Americans have high hopes for Birds
Can the team make waves this week?
BEAVER CREEK — Pop quiz: Who was the last American to win at Beaver Creek?
It’s not Ted Ligety because Mikaela Shiffrin won here at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in slalom the day after Ted won giant slalom.
Technicalities aside, it’s been a while for the Americans on their home snow, but the red, white and blue hopes to change things at the 2019 Xfinity Birds of Prey FIS World Cup.
Ryan Cochran-Siegle (Starksboro, Vermont) did the honors with the fastest time in downhill training on Wednesday with a time of 1 minute, 41.37 seconds, ahead of Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (1:41.61) and Austria’s Matthias Mayer (1:41.67).
Of course, “winning” training only means something if things go well on race day.
“I was surprised. I had fast training runs in Lake Louise, (Alberta), too, and I don’t think my results come out well,” Cochran-Siegle said. “Today, I was just trying to take the run kinda easy. By the time you get to The Brink, it doesn’t turn out that way — you have to go full send. I was just trying to stay ahead of it and flow with the terrain. … I think I skied well 5oday. That’s about it. Race day is a totally different ball game.”
Perhaps, the difference is that the U.S. Men’s Ski Team starts the ball game healthy, and it hopes the results will follow.
Under the knife
Particularly on the speed side of the team, the Americans were a M.A.S.H. unit last season. Travis Ganong (Lake Tahoe, California) did his ACL in Bormio, Italy, in December 2017.
A two-time World Cup downhill winner and a silver-medialist in the discipline at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships here, Ganong just wasn’t right during the 2018-19 season. Though he was sixth at Val Gardena, Italy and 10th in Soldeu, Andorra, at the World Cup finals, last season was a forgettable campaign for the 31-year-old.
“Comparing where I was last year to this year is totally different,” Ganong said. “Last year, I had to trick myself into thinking I was OK and I was struggling all winter with my knee. This year is a totally different story. It’s feeling good.”
Ganong enters Birds of Prey having tied for 10th in the Lake Louise downhill and taking 12th in the super-G.
Meanwhile, were surgeries like frequent-flyer miles, Steven Nyman (three World Cup downhill wins, all in Val Gardena) would be in the front of the plane wherever he goes.
“Two years ago, ACL, MCL, PCL,” Nyman said. “Last year was ACL.”
Throw in Jared Goldberg and Tommy Biesemeyer, who both had Achilles tendon injuries, and it’s not really a surprise why the team has been struggling.
Back to Nyman (Sundance, Utah), he feels good and has a wealth of experience from which to draw here at Beaver Creek — third in 2006; second in 2007; third in 2014 and fourth in the 2015 worlds.
“I’ve done well here and have three podiums, but I haven’t won here,” Nyman, 37, said. “That’s highly motivating to me, that energy, that desire to push for more. That heightened focus, that’s a place when I tend to switch things on.
“It’s a fun hill. I see it. I understand it. It’s just a joy to ski. It’s one of the most well-rounded downhills on tour. It has the steeps. It has the flats. It has the terrain, big terrain.”
Nyman started this speed season tied for 10th with Ganong in last weekend’s downhill.
Bennett gaining ground
Knock wood, for some reason, Bryce Bennett (Lake Tahoe, like Ganong) didn’t break his body. Instead, he finished seventh in the downhill points.
In the process, he had top 10 finishes here, Val Gardena, Bormio, and in Wengen, Switzerland. Those are some resume builders.
With those performances, he’s making the transition from prospect to mainstay, and that takes some adjustment.
“I don’t know. I’m living that right now,” Bennett said with a laugh. “It all kind of changes. Before, you’re just skiing. There’s no external worries and then you start doing well and there’s a lot of media requests, some other obligations you don’t really think of. Not that it detracts, it’s part of the process.”
The buzz at Birds
• Ryan Cochrane-Siegle tops training on Wednesday.
• The course is running “bigger” than expected. A jump off Talon and Golden Eagle Jump caught racers’ attention.
• Training is scheduled for 11 a.m. today, however, Mother Nature may say otherwise.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.