New Bird of Prey: The super combined
BEAVER CREEK – If you talk to the Italian coaching staff, the strategy to winning this new super combined event is easy.”The strategy is winning the downhill and winning the slalom,” Italian coach Claudio Ravetto joked through Marco Scymandi.Yes, that would make the math simple for Thursday’s super combined, a new event to men’s Birds of Prey World Cup racing this year. But Thursday’s super combined could well provide an equally as unpredictable day of racing as the event it replaces on the Beaver Creek calendar – the super-G.The super combined is the newest discipline to alpine racing. It differs from its older cousin – the combined – in many ways. First, the SC has just one run of slalom, whereas the combined has two. The traditional combined is usually a shortened downhill with two slaloms. A super combined mixes any speed event (downhill or super-G) with one technical discipline (giant slalom or slalom)Conceivably, a SC could be made of the unusual combination of a super-G and GS, but Thursday’s race will have a full-sized downhill at 11 a.m. at Birds of Prey, followed by the slalom at 2:30 p.m.And the super combined is contested on the same day whereas some traditional combineds are spread over two days.”We’ve had combined before, but because of the field size and the difficulty to run a two-run slalom in a single day, we’ve had very few (true) combineds,” U.S. men’s head coach Phil McNichol said. “They’ve been mostly paper races. Wengen (,Switzerland,) and Kitzbuehel (,Austria,) are paper races. You run the downhill and combine those results with the special slalom the next day.
“I think it’s exciting to do two different events in one day and combine the results. We’ve seen the dynamic of that event, and the emerging athletes who can do well in that. That’s been an element people have enjoyed. Hopefully, that’s something that adds to alpine skiing in terms of spectatorship.”Advantage downhillers?The combined is designed as a test of overall skiing ability in a single day. Ideally however, under the traditional combined format with one downhill and two slaloms, the combined times from the speed event and the two technical ones are meant to be split equally between the disciplines.Italy’s Giorgia Rocca won last year’s Birds of Prey slalom with a time of 1 minute, 51.72 seconds. American Bode Miller topped the 2004 downhill field here in 1:39.76 – Rahlves’ victory last year was on a weather-shortened course.But in the super combined with only one slalom, the ratio of the competitors’ combined time is going to be more like 2-to-1 in favor of the downhill portion.Naturally, a racer better in the speed events is going to try to capitalize on the downhill portion, and the technical skier’s strategy is to be in top form for the gates in the second run.But math is math.
“For those downhill skiers, it’s a little bit better,” Canadian speed coach Lionel Finance said. “They have only one run of slalom, so the gap in between the slalom racers and the downhill racers, I would say, is shorter.”That having been said, neither the downhiller nor the slalom skier can hope to hang on in his weaker event.”(Slalom racers) have to go hard in the downhill because they can’t put themselves at too much of a deficit,” McNichol said. “They can’t tip-toe down the downhill to stay in the event. They have to push as hard as they can so they don’t get lapped so to speak.”Advantage slalomers?On the other hand, staying in the neighborhood of the leaders during the downhill is a viable strategy. American Ted Ligety did just that in February, overcoming a 3-second deficit after the downhill with brilliant slalom runs to win Olympic gold in the combined in Torino, Italy.”That’s what Bode (Miller) did back in St. Moritz (, Switzerland, in 2003) when he won gold in the World Championship combined,” McNichol said. “He made it up in slalom completely. (Austria’s) Benny (Raich) does it more in slalom.”
Yes, those were two-run combineds, but McNichol’s on to something. Raich, a superb all-around skier, but better known for his technical skills, won two of the three SCs on the tour last year.Go to Austrian coach Toni Giger, and you’ll get a more definitive answer as to which type of skier has an advantage. “The super combined is decided by the slalom,” he said. “The super combined is for slalom racers who do well in the downhill. The downhillers have no chance in the super combined.”And seeing as Austria has won the Nation’s Cup, awarded to the best overall team annually, for the last 17 years, Giger’s got to have a point.All-around?McNichol sees a trend in combined and super combined events – the winners usually come from a technical background, but develop their downhill skills as well.”You can go take anybody who’s currently scoring and ranked in both downhill and slalom,” McNichol said. “Take the (World Cup scoring list), land ook at who’s entered in the (super) combined. The guy who has the averaged lowest rank in the two is the best. Benny Raich is No. 1 in slalom. He’s top 15 in downhill. He’s a pretty hard guy to say he’s not the favorite, just on pure statistical numbers.
“Now Bode’s dropped out of the top 30 in slalom. He’s top five in downhill. But you know what he can bring in slalom, so he’s for sure a threat.”And after breaking down all the attributes of being a better speed or technical skier, there’s always the fickle nature of skiing. The slightest mistake in the afternoon slalom run translates to a missed gate. A few DNFs like that and the super combined is all of a sudden up for grabs.”Slalom always adds that level of attrition,” McNichol said. “You can see some interesting stuff happen.”And that makes the Italian strategy for super combined the safest bet.Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or email@example.com.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO