The grit of the game
There are many things to consider in World Cup skiing, all of which can make or break a raceBy Shauna FarnellDaily Sports WriterBEAVER CREEK – Besides eating enough pasta and keeping the beer intake to a minimum, there are a few things to keep in mind for World Cup racers, both before approaching the starting gate and on the racecourse.ApproachIf your knees are knocking against the starting gates, you’re probably not going to win the race. Confidence; it’s the first element to success for a top-10 run in any kind of race, especially for the likes of Austria’s Stephan Goergl, who, despite having a bad night’s sleep Wednesday, awoke to a new horizon when he crossed the finish line Thursday with the best result of his racing career – his first World Cup victory.”It was really weird because I had a bad night – I didn’t think it was possible to do this race. But, I think it’s important to be on the start and to say to myself, ‘You have to attack, give 100 percent, look what’s possible,'” Goergl said. “I think it’s a lot like Bode. I like his style of skiing, his easy way of doing it. It’s a really good thing for all of us. Today, I did it the same.” Bode Miller, who took second Thursday, was reluctant to believe that other Cup skiers would adopt his attack style.”If that’s true, I wouldn’t recommend it,” he said.
Start orderMiller pointed out that both Goergl and his countryman Mario Scheiber, who finished third, had good starting placement in Thursday’s race. Scheiber was the third racer down the hill and Goergl the 11th.”There is a reason why nobody between 20 and 30 was in there,” Miller said. “That has to do with the course upkeep. It does help to run earlier. Last year, you saw guys coming down right towards the end. Those are by far the best super-G skiers in the world. It was a pretty noticeable disadvantage for them to run later. Even when I ran was a significant disadvantage.”Miller, who started 18th Thursday, might have a point. Herman Maier, who was the 30th starter, and Austrian teammate Benjamin Raich, who was the 25th, were the only two racers to start after position No. 20 and finish in the top-10 (Maier finished eighth and Raich 10th).Even Austrian head coach Toni Giger said that Goergl’s starting position was beneficial.”He had a good bib,” Giger said. “He could ski the direct, aggressive line. It’s not possible with the higher numbers. In Beaver Creek, you need a low number.” Of course, there’s no way to measure lost time precisely for those who start at the bottom of the field. “Time-wise, it’s different for every race, but it’s always a disadvantage,” said American Erik Schlopy. He started No. 51 Thursday and finished 48th.”It’s hard to say how much,” he said. “But, to use an analogy, it would be like playing tennis and the best guys on their side of the court have a perfectly smooth court, and the guys that are seeded back have to take a shovel and have to divot out of the grass in different places and have to deal with how the ball bounces with the divots on their side.”So, basically, the surface gets roughed up and the line is already dictated for you. The skis don’t run as smoothly through the snow. That adds up to time all over the place.”
For super-G, Schlopy said that Nos. 5, 6, or 7 would be the ideal place to start.”That way, you get a track down, you get a course report, but the snow’s still fresh,” he said. “In GS, the best place to start is anywhere in the top-three. For slalom, No. 1. But still, guys starting where I was starting could pop right into the top-15 or top-10.”Snow conditionsAll of the racers in Thursday’s super-G commented on the excellence of the snow conditions. There were, however, some changes in the snow on different parts of the course, but a part of race tactics is anticipating the changes and coping with them accordingly. Miller said this was part of the error that cost him a victory Thursday. Near The Pumphouse, he hit an area of ice chunks (“death cookies”) and his line maneuvering through them caused him to drop time just before a flat section which he was unable to regain.”You have to adjust your tactics,” he said. “I needed to anticipate it ahead of time. If you want to win a race, you want to adjust as you go along.”Around the bends and over the rollersNothing elicits “oohs and ahhs” from a World Cup crowd like watching the racers take the jumps in speed events. There are six jumps on the Birds of Prey SG and downhill courses, and, as spectators saw Thursday, racers can hit and land them in entirely different ways, some of which might be sacrificial.Austria’s Michael Walchhofer, one of the favorites going into Thursday’s race, fell victim to the Golden Eagle Jump after miraculously regaining his balance after bobbling from one ski to the next when landing the Screech Owl Jump.
Even Goergl drew some gasps from the crowd as he sailed off Golden Eagle with his ski tips in the air and landed on the backs of his skis. “You have to attack over the jumps, too,” he said. “I didn’t lose too much speed. Sometimes if you’re fast, things happen.”As everybody knows, Daron Rahlves is fast. But speed is a difficult thing to control while airborne. After rolling up the windows over Golden Eagle, Rahlves landed off course. The speed he lost cost him precious time and he finished 17th.Thus, he has a simple strategy for taking jumps.”First, you want to be going off in the right direction,” he said. “When you’re in the air, you’re thinking, ‘I gotta go to the left, but I can’t turn until I get back into the snow.'”Most of the aspects of jump technique can be applied to the rest of the race. “You need fast skis,” Scheiber said. “When you go in the race position (tuck), a little bit up, then you jump and there’s no problem.” “This is a very individual thing,” Giger said of jumping technique. “The most important thing is that they don’t lean back.”Miller, who seems to have a ski off the ground around every gate, will often launch and land jumps in the same fashion. He said that Golden Eagle is “pretty big” as super-G jumps go.”You’re probably getting 30 meters off that thing,” he said. “You’re almost going right into the next gate. But, it’s pretty straightforward.”Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or firstname.lastname@example.org.