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Racers get a fast look at Birds of Prey

Ian Cropp
WC Michael Walchhofer SM 11-29-06
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BEAVER CREEK – While recreational skiers enjoyed the more than two feet of powder at Beaver Creek Wednesday, World Cup skiers tackled a well-maintained Birds of Prey downhill course in freezing temperatures.”They’ve done an amazing job,” said Patrik Jaerbyn of the crew that worked through the night to ensure there would be the necessary one day of downhill training before Friday’s race.Four snow cats, six winch cats and a fuel cat cleared the course of snow from 6 p.m. Tuesday until about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.”It was tough,” said Chief of Course Greg Johnson, whose crew pulled off a nearly identical feat last year. “The weather is getting old. I’m looking forward to a sunny race.”Tuesday’s downhill training was canceled, and Wednesday’s was delayed until 1 p.m.Austrian Machael Walchhofer had the fastest time of all 95 racers, clocking in a 1 minute, 46.36 seconds, while teammate Christoph Gruber was .18 seconds behind. Walchhofer took third place in the 2004 downhill.

Switzerland’s Didier Cuche had the third-fastest run Wednesday, .25 seconds off the pace, followed by Jaerbyn (.47 back) and Liechtenstein’s Marco Buechel (.50 back), winner of this past weekend’s downhill in Lake Louise, Alberta.A light snow fell during the earlier part of the training session, and the course had some soft spots – remnants of Tuesday’s snow storm.Not just one runMany racers in Wednesday’s training normally don’t compete in downhill, but were getting a feel for the course they will run in today’s super combined. “I’m feeling more comfortable in downhill,” said American Ted Ligety, who won a gold medal in the combined at the 2006 Torino games. “Every training run you can get here when you are a slalom skier makes you so much more comfortable in the race.”Ligety got a little scouting help on the course from his teammates.”They gave me advice going into each section,” Ligety said. “It’s good to have those guys that have run (Birds of Prey) a lot give you a little bit of advice.”And for some speed skiers, Wednesday’s run was a good refresher for a challenging course.

“Every time you’re on the course for the first time each year, it’s something new,” said American Marco Sullivan. “I figured out a few glitches.”Those who didn’t get a good enough grip on the terrain can get another training run via today’s super combined.”That’s why I need to do (the super combined), because it’s hard to race a course that you’ve never skied the (duration) of,” said Canada’s Manuel Osborne-Paradis, who skied out at the top and also did not finish last year’s downhill race. “I’ve still have yet to ski the bottom part of this downhill course the two years I’ve been here. One days I’ll get to the Golden Eagle jump.”Osborne-Paradis may not have mastered the Birds of Prey just yet, but he has proven himself in the downhill, taking his first podium this weekend at home with a silver.Uncharted watersSeven years ago, 22-year old American TJ Lanning got his first taste of downhill on the Birds of Prey.”On the Golden Eagle jump, I landed on my back and snapped my skis in half,” Lanning said. “I learned my lesson pretty quick.”Before Wednesday, Lanning had only run one other speed event on the course – a NorAm super-G. But Lanning had the run of the day, storming out of the 83rd spot to take ninth, the best American finish.

Lanning’s time of 1:47.57 was only .14 seconds behind perennial Birds of Prey podium finisher Hermann Maier.”That was my first run top to bottom,” said Lanning. “It was so bumpy and fast that you are reacting the whole time. You have what you want to do when you go out of the start, but you’ve just gotta look ahead and stay balanced. That was so much fun – the jumps are awesome, the turns are great.”BeowulfWith temperatures dropping to almost 0 degrees, racers took protective measures to guard against the elements.Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal was one of many donning a mask of tape over his nose and cheeks.”In Lake Louise, I got such frostbite because it was minus 27,” Lund said, while removing the tape from his nose. “I’ve gotta do something or else (my nose) is going to fall off. I was standing in front of the mirror two days ago, and said ‘What is this, dead skin?’ And this morning I went up and skied a couple runs without anything on and it was just hurting.”Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.


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