The down low on Fridays downhill at Beaver Creek
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado Our nation doesnt care about ski racing, except once every four years when NBC tells us to for about an hour per night present readership excluded, of course.With no disrespect toward the television outlets here covering Birds of Prey, the way to build the sport in the U.S.A., is to get Americans off their couches and to have them watch a race or two in person.Take todays Birds of Prey downhill, set for an 11 a.m. start. Its got speed, strength, quick reaction and danger, all the elements of our countrys favorite sports baseball, basketball, football, and yes, hockey.And then there are the plotlines. Austrias Hermann Maier (bib No. 10) hopes to turn back the clock again to win here for the ninth time. His teammate Michael Walchhofer (22) is the defending champ.The Americans have won downhills on this run from 2003-06 Bode Miller (20) and Daron Rahlves (retired) with Steven Nyman (25) finishing second last year. Will it be Miller or Nyman for the stars and stripes?Does Norways Aksel Lund Svindal (13) make a triumphant comeback after he nearly saw his career destroyed last year here? Switzerlands Didier Cuche (18) always does well here. Italys Peter Fill (19) won the first downhill of the season last week in Lake Louise, Alberta. The Canadians John Kucera (4) and Erik Guay (11) always seem to do well here.And then it could be a complete surprise, a win which will remake someones life. Whats not to like about this?In our effort to get more Americans into ski racing, heres the lowdown on todays race.Weather: Weather.com says 26 and partly cloudy. We should be a go for racing.Birds of Prey past champions: Kristian Ghedina (Italy, 1997); Andreas Schifferer (Austria, 1997); Maier (1999 Worlds, 1999, 2000 and 2003 World Cup); Stephan Eberharter (Austria, 2002); Miller (2004, 2006); Rahlves (2003 transplanted run from Val dIsere, France and 2005) and Walchhofer (Austria, 2007).Downhill stats: The course drops from 11,427 feet at the top to 8,944 feet at Red Tail Camp. Its a descent of 2,484 feet. The course is 8,606 feet long. Number of racers: 68.Downhill intervals: The Brink, Pumphouse, Golden Eagle and The Abyss.Lookout on the downhill: The jumps are spectacular, yes, but youve got to get a good start out of the gate to The Flyway. The downhill is often won or lost at the top.Americans: Miller (20), Marco Sullivan (21), Nyman (25), Scott Macartney (28), T.J. Lanning (35), Andrew Weibrecht (42), Jeremy Transue (46) and Erik Fisher (56).Favorites: Maier will always be on this list until he has grandkids. Miller won training Tuesday. Nymans finished third and second here the last two years. Cuche, Walchhofer, and Austrian Christoph Gruber (23) know the hill well.Darkhorses: Svindal would be one heck of a story. Frances David Poisson (27) was a very quiet second in training. And look out for Kucera, whos coming off a podium last week. Staff picks:Chris Freud, sports editor: Nyman wins on home snow.Ian Smith, sports writer: Walchhofer repeats.Austin Richardson, Web editor: Cuche comes through.Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.