NorAm Cup adds feather to Birds of Prey | VailDaily.com

NorAm Cup adds feather to Birds of Prey

Shauna Farnell
Shane Macomber/ smacomber@ vaildaily.comUSA's Chip Knight holds a tight curve on a gate Tuesday during the giant slalom Nor-Am race. Knight tied for 8th yesterday and won on Monday.
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BEAVER CREEK – The stands were gone, the crowds were gone, there was no Jumbotron, no European media with which to push and elbow for interviews, and there wasn’t a cowbell in ear’s range.But, nearly a hundred racers, many of whom were just a major part of last week’s World Cup action, gave the Birds of Prey one last fly Tuesday in the NorAm Cup giant slalom. The NorAm Cup, like the Europa Cup, is the next level below the World Cup circuit. All races take place in the United States and Canada, and NorAm competitors could well shape up as the Bode Millers of the future.United States Ski Team veterans walked away with the most NorAm FIS points for Monday’s and Tuesday’s races.Chip Knight, one of the longest-standing vets, skiing for his 12th season with the U.S. team, won Monday’s race in a two-run combined time of 2 minutes, 36.12 seconds. Tom Rothrock, who had several top-15 slalom finishes in last year’s World Cup, won Tuesday’s GS in 2:33.32.”The World Cup races (last) weekend were great,” said Knight, who tied for eighth Tuesday with Jeffrey Harrison (2:35.16), but failed to make the cut in Sunday’s World Cup slalom. “It’s definitely the warmest reception the U.S. team has had in this country that I can remember. These NorAms have been a great opportunity, too. The hill’s in great shape. It’s really long and it’s hard. These NorAms are really nice for us to build some confidence before going over to Europe.”Knight, along with all of the U.S. top-10 finishers in the NorAms, will head immediately to Europe this week, some to compete in the World Cup events this weekend in Val d’Isere, France, and some to pick up Monday, when the circuit moves to slalom racing in Sestriere, Italy.

A chance to breathe … a little”It’s a lot more relaxed now, but this is probably my last NorAm of the season,” said Rothrock, who also didn’t fare too well in Sunday’s slalom, but took third Monday and won Tuesday’s GS by 0.14 seconds over second-place finisher Francois Bourque of Canada. “That was my first World Cup of the year. This gives me some more confidence for the next World Cup. It’s pretty tiring, because we’ve been racing for five or six days straight now.”The 49-gate course had the entire field sucking wind, sweating and trying to get their breath following the race. Bourque’s first run was more than a half-second faster than anyone else’s, but he said a few mistakes cost him the sliver of a second needed to maintain his lead in the second run.”The second run was a lot rougher,” said Bourque, who finished fourth Monday and who also competes on the World Cup with the Canadian national speed team. “For sure, I wanted to win, but second place is good, too. I think it’s always good to do the World Cup before. If you want to build up well on the World Cup, you have to do well with NorAms first.”Most of the racers in the Beaver Creek NorAms were from U.S. college teams. Several were Canadian. There were a few Swedes, a couple Australians and Brits, and one token Austrian, who sacrificed an opportunity to ski for the Austrian Federation to pursue an education at the University of Denver and ski on the college circuit and, when he can spare the missed class-time, on the NorAm circuit.”The guys out of the World Cup flew home; since I’m over here studying at the University of Denver, they asked me if I wanted to ski the NorAms,” said Dominik Schweiger, 22, who finished 17th Tuesday in the original field of 91 racers.

“I race as much as possible. But, I have obligations for school. That’s the great thing, the opportunity I’ve got over here. I can combine skiing and get an education. I would have made the Austrian Development Team three years ago, but you don’t have the chance to go to school and still be competitive. The NorAms are just one step down from the World Cup. It’s the second-highest level you’re able to ski together with the Europa Cup. There’s a great level of competition here. In this circuit are the stars of tomorrow.”The stars of tomorrow?A couple such potential stars might include Ted Ligety and Jimmy Cochran, both of whom got their 15 minutes of star treatment in the World Cup GS and slalom races last weekend at Beaver Creek. Cochran, along with teammate Erik Schlopy, became the last chance for Americans to shine after Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller spilled in Saturday’s GS. The gasp that seized the crowd when Cochrane followed suit and crashed about five gates from the finish line in the second run summed up the excitement of the Birds of Prey World Cup atmosphere. On Sunday, Ligety became the solitary American hero when he tied for 15th with Sweden’s Johan Brolenius (who took eighth Tuesday and 12th Monday) in Sunday’s slalom, which summarily eliminated Miller, Schlopy, and the rest of the U.S. Team.Ligety and Cochrane tied for third in Tuesday’s NorAm with a time of 2:34.09, and Cochran finished fifth Monday and Ligety seventh. While both skiers admitted their NorAm accomplishments seemed a little anticlimatic after the World Cup excitement, but their results instilled in them an extra dose of confidence before they head to Europe this week.”It’s definitely tough to stay focused and motivated, especially with the fourth day in a row of racing at 10,000 feet,” said Cochran, 23, who won the U.S. Championship slalom and giant slalom events last year and whose father and three aunts were all Olympians. “It’s exhausting, but it’s fun. It’s a great start to the season, for sure.”It’s great to get confidence in NorAms. It’s one of the better places to gain the confidence for the World Cup because a lot of these same guys score all the time in the World Cup, so if you beat them, you know you can score in the World Cup. Taking on the Europa Cup does the same thing. It’s a great confidence-builder.”

But without the glory of an audience? Ligety and Cochran have a different perspective on what the presence of thousands of onlookers does for their racing.”It’s really intense – not that this isn’t – but, it’s a lot of extra stuff to think about for sure,” Cochran said. “But, that makes it fun, because it means so much. And to go through the finish line and have the crowd so excited because you’re American is just awesome. I was impressed. There is a surprising amount of interest. There’s a great ski-racing community in this area.””I like the World Cup pressure,” Ligety said. “I think I perform better under pressure. You come to the NorAms, and it’s more relaxed. You have more time between runs. You have time to hang out with more of the guys from the old days. But, I love having the crowds here. You kind of work off that crowd. You know everyone’s looking at you because you’re American. So, it’s great to have everyone cheering for you. It’s an advantage, compared to Europe, where nobody really cares if you’re American.””Unless you’re Bode,” Cochran added.”Yeah,” laughed Ligety. “Unless you’re Bode.”Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 610, or sfarnell@vaildaily.com.Vail Colorado