Walchhofer throws himself into contention at Beaver Creek
BEAVER CREEK – Austria’s Michael Walchhofer has announced that the 2010-11 season will be his last, but it doesn’t seem that he’ll be going into retirement quietly.
Walchhofer tied for first in training with Italy’s Peter Fill with a time of 1 minute, 48.34 seconds on a stop-and-start and eventually abbreviated day of downhill training at Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey on Wednesday.
While conditions were difficult, causing a halt to the proceedings after 45 racers, and Wednesday’s practice run was two days before Friday’s downhill, it’s hard to ignore that Walchhofer won the first downhill of the season up in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Saturday and was third in Tuesday’s training here, as well.
“I think we will see,” Walchhofer said. “It’s always good to do a good training run. But there are so many favorites on this slope, so you have to give always the best on the race day.”
Walchhofer also has nine top-10 finishes in downhills here in the past eight years – Beaver Creek had two DHs in 2003 – so training or not, the 35-year-old is very much in his element.
As his record would indicate, Walchhofer probably could keep going for a few years and add to his accomplished legacy. But he’s firm that 2010-11 is his last year.
“No, I’m at a good age to end a career,” he said. “A big goal for me to end a career as a healthy racer. I have a family at home with three kids. We have two hotels at home (in Salzburg). I have a lot of work waiting at the end of my career.”
Wednesday’s run was not hampered by excessive snow or high wind, the usual factors, but by warmer conditions as the racers came down the course. Snow would melt on the athletes’ goggles, which happens. But because they were going so fast (as high as 70 mph), said water froze immediately on the goggles, rendering the eyewear useless.
“You can have a heater inside (your goggles), but I don’t think that it will really work,” joked Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, who, nevertheless, finished fifth in 1:48.80, for his second top 10 in training in as many days.
“After the flats, it was already icing. The steep, there was so much terrain, so much going on. I never had a time where I could hit my goggles, try to get the snow away. Around the GS start, Pumphouse, that was really scary.”
After Svindal, the 21st racer of the day, racing paused for around an hour. When it resumed, Austria’s Hans Grugger laid down the third-fastest run of the day in 1:48.40. Canada’s Erik Guay was fourth in 1:48.41. Fourth on Tuesday, Austria’s Klaus Kroell was sixth. With the exception of Fill, Wednesday’s top-six finishers were all in the top 10 on Tuesday, too.
American Travis Ganong, 22, was the nice surprise of the day, taking seventh with a time of 1:48.84. From Squaw Valley, Calif., and all of 22, Ganong will be making only his eighth start on the World Cup, but is starting to create a little buzz.
“Yeah, I just skied within myself and just stuck to my game plan,” he said. “I had no idea it would be that fast.
“I tightened up my line on a couple of sections, gave a little more inspection to others. The big key is off the last jump here, Harrier, bringing it out deep and coming back. I think that works well.”
France’s Adrien Theaux, Switzerland’s Silvan Zurbriggen and Canada’s Robbie Dixon rounded out the top 10.
The more-familiar American names in downhill rebounded collectively on Day 2 of training. Bode Miller, Steve Nyman and Andrew Weibrecht finished 11-12-13. Ted Ligety, better known for his technical skills, was 32nd, while Marco Sullivan had a rough go of it in 40th.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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