Reichelt, Austrians flood podium
BEAVER CREEK ” After Monday’s men’s World Cup Birds of Prey super-G, the Austrian national anthem was played. Perhaps, they should have repeated “Bundeshymne” a few more times because once didn’t seem sufficient.
The Austrians turned the final day of the 2007 Birds of Prey into an intrasquad practice with Hannes Reichelt, Mario Scheiber and Christoph Gruber sweeping the podium. The Austrians ended up taking five of the top-six spots with Michael Walchhofer and Benjamin Raich tying for fifth. Only Switzerland’s Daniel Albrecht broke up the red-and-white monotony by finishing fourth.
“Skiing is the No. 1 sport in Austria, so we are under a little bit of pressure, or were under some pressure the last two weeks,” Walchhofer said, changing his tune a bit. “Now, I think the Austrian ski fans can be happy.”
It would be hard for even by the lofty standards of the Austrian media and fans to fault their team’s performance Monday. In addition to putting five in the top six, the Austrians had seven in the top 13, and none of them were named Hermann Maier (tied for 19th), who has eight career wins at Birds of Prey.
Welcome back, Hannes
While Austrians are no strangers to success here, Reichelt has to enjoy Beaver Creek. He logged his first career World Cup win at Birds of Prey in 2005 in super-G. Monday was his second victory with a time of 1 minute, 19.87 seconds, just 2-hundredths ahead of Scheiber.
“It’s beautiful. Today, it’s sunny and not so stormy (like in 2005),” Reichelt said. “It’s not better than two years ago. I think two years ago was my first victory. That was special. Today was very special because I was really lucky with the 2-hundredths over Scheiber. I did a good run to start No. 1.”
During his first win in 2005, Reichelt had the distinct advantage of running fifth on a snowy day, when going early was a distinct advantage because the course slowed down as more highly-acclaimed racers went later.
By contrast, Monday’s super-G ran under pristine skies, and seemed unlikely that Reichelt in the No. 1 bib would be able to stay in the hot seat from start to finish.
“It’s beautiful because you stay in the sun, waiting and waiting and waiting,” Reichelt said.
The 27-year-old did get a scare when Scheiber, out of the 18th spot, nearly clipped him.
“After Mario, my (heart) was going … ,” Reichelt said, pausing to pound his chest for effect.
Reichelt’s teammates weren’t surprised to see him start No. 1 and stay there.
“Not really, no,” said Raich, who tied with Walchhofer at 1:20.21. “He’s very strong in training, and also on this hill. It’s not a surprise.”
Perhaps against conventional wisdom that the prime speed-race spots are Nos. 25-30, skiing first was still an advantage on a placid Monday.
“I knew that Hannes is really strong and that No. 1 is good on this hill because it’s getting a little bit rough, bumpier,” said Gruber, who was third in 1:20.18. “But he did a great job and congratulations to him.”
What cannot be questioned is that Reichelt nailed the bottom of the course from The Abyss to the finish. Very few were able to keep their speed to the end. Reichelt posted the second-fastest time there, only behind American Bode Miller, but more importantly, 29-hundredths of second faster than Scheiber.
“After the compression (The Abyss), I did a good right turn,” Reichelt said. “I had a little bit of time for the next chance. I think I did a great race.”
Scheiber just missed out on his first World Cup win, but was in much better spirits after a difficult run the last two weeks in Lake Louise, Alberta, and Beaver Creek. Scheiber’s had cracked the top 10 only once in six starts ” eighth in Friday’s downhill here ” on the North American leg of the tour.
Scheiber suggested that Austria’s podium domination Monday was a sign that the team’s younger talent is starting to come into its prime.
“We are very young now. Because the old guys ” Stefan Eberharter, Hans Knauss ” they are in ski pension,” he joked. “We need a little more time. We are all fast together and today we showed it all.”
While the point is taken with the 27-year-old Reichelt and Scheiber, 26, and Raich, 29, Austria’s “old” guard of Gruber, 31, and Walchhofer, 32, showed there’s plenty of spring left in its legs.
Oh, by the way
And somewhere in the middle of Austria’s success Monday was Albrecht. He was fourth in 1:20.18.
That capped a breakout week for Albrecht. Though he had won at Worlds, he had never topped the podium on tour. Albrecht proceeded to win the super combined and the giant slalom in addition to Monday’s fourth-place finish.
“For me it was nearly a perfect weekend, a perfect event,” Albrecht said. “I had a lot of success. I had a lot of fun. There was good weather. It was perfect. I think I have a good feeling on this slope here.”
Italy’s Patrick Staudacher and Switzerland’s Tobias Gruenenfleder took seventh and eighth, respectively, while Slovenia’s Ales Gorza and Canada’s Jan Hudec tied for ninth.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or email@example.com.