Walchhofer edges Nyman in downhill | VailDaily.com

Walchhofer edges Nyman in downhill

Ian Cropp
Vail CO, Colorado
BOP Steve Nyman DH PU 11-30-07

BEAVER CREEK ” With one nearly perfect downhill run, Michael Walchhofer answered plenty of questions.

Walchhofer, the towering, yet soft-spoken Austrian, edged American Steven Nyman by 0.05 seconds in Friday’s Birds of Prey World Cup downhill, while Swizerland’s Didier Cuche was third, only 0.10 seconds behind Walchhofer.

With the win, Walchhofer snapped a four-year American winning streak, ended his team’s long slump without a win and finally found gold at Beaver Creek ” one of the few downhill courses he hadn’t previously conquered.

“It’s not just an important day for me, but for the whole Austrian team because the Austrian media asks when will we win the first race,” Walchhofer said. “Last year they waited for a downhill victory and this year they waited for a victory in all disciplines.”

Walchhofer has done plenty waiting of his own at Beaver Creek. In the past five years, Walchhofer has finished in the top 10 for every downhill, including four top-five appearances.

“From second to sixth, I’ve had all those positions here,” he said. “This was great for me. The last few races (this season) were not so perfect, and I think I gain a lot of self confidence with this run today.”

The Birds of Prey is the seventh course on which Walchhofer has picked up a downhill win.

“It’s one of the most difficult downhills in the world, and I think every racer tries to win on this slope after Kitzbuhel and Bormio,” said Wachoffer, who hopes to add Val Gardena, Italy to his resume. “I was second four times there ” I can never win there.”

Snowy and windy conditions caused race officials to move the start to a lower on the course, although Walchhofer’s run came under mostly clear skis.

“I didn’t look for the special line ” I just tried to ski down the fastest line,” he said.

Liecthstein’s Marco Buechel was fifth, followed by American Bode Miller in sixth. American Andrew Weibrecht, in the No. 52 bib, stormed into 10th to give the U.S. three in the top 10 for the second day in a row.

At last year’s Birds of Prey downhill, Nyman picked up his first career podium, taking third behind Miller’s win. While the amazing American home streak ” thanks to wins from Miller and Daron Rahlves ” came to an end Friday, but Nyman kept the American downhill podium steak going at six with a spectacular run under tough conditions.

Running in the No. 8 bib, Nyman pushed through low visibility and fresh snow and put on an acrobatic display. Coming out of the Golden Eagle jump, Nyman landed on his right ski, collected his balance while still on one ski, and then pushed to the finish.

“I hit everything just how I wanted to it was good to keep the tradition going,” Nyman said. “I’m really happy with my run and just exited to execute like I did today.”

Even though Nyman had some of the rougher conditions under which to ski, he wasn’t complaining one bit.

“It’s part of the game. This is the real winner,” Nyman said, pointing to Walchhofer during the press conference. “I was 0.05 off the win, but I beat Didier (Cuche) in Val Gardena by 0.02 seconds. It’s so minute, but the winner is the winner.”

Although he may have looked out of control at certain points, Nyman said he had a grasp on things, even during the one-legged maneuver.

“I’m part cat,” Nyman joked. “That was normal ” I’ve done that on every training run.”

After his early run, Nyman had to wait around and watch most of the field come down. Nyman joked around in the finish corral during interviews and turned his head as racers came across the line, and left the worrying to his mother Becky, who was two fences away in the VIP area.

“It was really scary because I didn’t know when to celebrate,” said Becky, who came to the races along with 30 of Nyman’s friends and family. “I have to try to tell myself to breath and my legs get really weak.”

Although Walchhofer jumped ahead of him, nobody else passed the highly-motivated, but happy-go-lucky Nyman.

“He’s just this little kid at heart ” he loves life,” Becky said.

After winning Tuesday’s downhill training and posting the best time in the downhill portion of Thursday’s super-combined, Cuche had an inauspicious start to his run Friday.

“I (caught) a good line at the end of the second gate and then I was so high and I made a mistake. I made a big mistake, and then another one two gates later and that’s where I lost the victory.”

But Cuche, who had the fastest final split Thursday, made up time at the bottom again, posting the second-fastest final split.

“I have not really a lot of victories in my career ” lots of second-place and third-place (finishes). Today was my 32nd podium, but in some races, like Adelboden, when I won, I came down and was one second ahead. That’s a victory you are not expecting. Today I was hoping for a victory after those training runs. I was ready for victory. That’s why I’m really happy to still be third. I could crash, I could land in the hospital like Askel (Lund Svindal). But I recovered.”

Defago came in 0.09 seconds behind teammate Cuche, while Buechel was only 0.01 behind Defago. Austrian Hermann Maier, who in 2003 was the last non-American before Walchhofer to win at the Birds of Prey, looked good during the first half of his run Friday, but lost time at the end and finished 11th.

Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.

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