Kjus sneaks past Maier in GS | VailDaily.com

Kjus sneaks past Maier in GS

Preston Utley/putley@vaildaily.com Austrian Hermann Maier, left, Norweigan Lasse Kjus, middle, and Austrian Benjamin Raich celebrate on the podium after Saturday's Birds of Prey World Cup giant slalom in Beaver Creek. Kjus won the race with Maier and Raich taking second and third, respectively.
ALL |

BEAVER CREEK – Lasse Kjus and Hermann Maier got to party like it was 1999 Saturday on the Birds of Prey podium.The two graying World Cup giants, who shared a gold medal in super-G at the 1999 World Alpine Skiing Championships in Beaver Creek, found themselves in a similar spot after Kjus won the giant slalom with a combined two-run time of 2 minutes, 29.82 seconds and Maier finished second in 2:30.27.Maier’s teammate Bejamin Raich was third in 2:30.46.The scene may have a been familiar one, considering Maier has won eight World Cup races on the Birds of Prey and Kjus has landed on the podium here six times. The dose of normalcy came after two days of surprise finishes, too. Maier’s 26-year-old, lesser-known teammate Stephan Goergl picked up his first World Cup win Thursday in the super-G and Americans Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves, who both crashed in their first runs Saturday, finished one-two in downhill Friday, an unprecedented accomplishment.So ho-hum, right?Wrong.

That Kjus picked up his 17th World Cup win in GS, a discipline in which he hadn’t won since 1996, was a surprise. That Maier finished second was a surprise also since the Herminator’s last GS top-three finishes date back to 2001.”It’s like, when you are not so often skiing fast in giant slalom, you never know if you’re fast or not,” Kjus said. “I think I was a little surprised because I’m so used to being disappointed when I come down seeing my time. It was a great feeling to see I was No. 1.”Maier was also pleasantly startled when he saw his time.”It’s a perfect day for me,” he said. “I never suspected it, especially in giant slalom. The fast disciplines are better for me. It’s always, I’m on the top here. In giant slalom, it’s perfect for me. It’s better than the fast disciplines. It’s perfect finish for me now in this race today.”Second chances

It was apparent that Saturday was going to be a different day after Rahlves and Miller (see story, page A18) crashed in their first runs – a world of difference, really.Erik Schlopy of Park City, Utah, who is back this season after blowing out his knee in the GS in front of a home crowd last year in the second race of the season, was the lone American to end up in the top-10.Schlopy jumped into second place behind Goergl after an aggressive second that gave him a combined time of 2:30.83.He continued to slip down the leader board, however, after Raich took the lead with his second run. Maier then took the lead himself, running 24th, before Kjus moved ahead of him running 26th. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway also moved ahead of Schlopy and into fourth with his time of 2:30.54.Svindal, who was second following the first run, was the last racer to cross the finish line. Christroph Gruber of Austria, the leader after the first run, flew off course near the bottom of his second run when his left ski came off the ground while going around a gate and he lost control.Davide Simoncelli of Italy (seventh, 2:31.20), Didier Defago of Switzerland (eighth, 2:31.22), Michael Walchhofer of Austria (ninth, 2:31.25) and Marco Buechel of Liechtenstein (10th, 2:31.31) filled out the top-10.

Some like it hotWith a brilliant afternoon sun bearing down for the second set of runs, the snow on the GS course became noticeably softer. That led to times which were almost two seconds longer, on average, for each racer.Maier and Kjus said the snow on course was ideal for them and that the warm temperatures made it easier to cope with their respective ailments.Kjus has been fighting a respiratory affliction that kept him out of Friday’s downhill and Maier’s right knee, which he severely injured in a 2001 motorcyle, accident still bothers him.”Today, it was much warmer and I like it warmer,” Maier said. “I don’t have so much problems with the knee. I had problems with the knee today, too, but it’s easier for me for skiing. Usually, giant slalom is more a problem with it, because of more pressure in the turns, but today it was a nice race for me.”Added Kjus, “Today, again it was snow that I like. Dry, aggressive snow. I’ve been often skiing very fast on that kind of conditions. At the start today, I wasn’t expecting to go all the way to the top, but I was hoping to gain a little bit from the conditions and be among the best of them.”

Raich, on the other hand, said he would have liked the snow to be a little harder.”I feel I’m almost unbeatable when the course is really icy,” he said. “I feel more comfortable when it’s icy all the way. Today, it was OK but I like it harder and more difficult.”Roll the diceThe difference in competitors moving up or down he leader board in the second run came down to who took the most aggressive line. Goergl was the first to take some risk and gain some reward when he flew off the Golden Eagle jump near the halfway point and dove into the next gate at a dicey angle.

Too much risk did cost some racers top-10 finishes. One example was Hans Knauss of Austria, who was sixth after the first run, but ended up in 16th at the finish of his second run after a number of little mistakes.Maier benefited, however, by putting the onus on himself to push it a little more – even with a noticeable mistake up top. “After I crossed the finish line. I didn’t watch the time because I made a mistake on the upper section,” he said. “So, I thought it’s not possible for me to be in the lead. There were some turns that were really great for me. In the middle section it was very bad there, but after the flat section, I thought I’m very slow, because it was very slow there, so I risked more. And maybe it’s the key. I have to risk more in giant slalom.”Staff Writer Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at npeterson@vaildaily.com.