Who is the next great American downhiller?
Who is next?
The U.S. Ski Team’s been asking that for a while now when it comes to the next great American men’s downhiller.
For those of us who watch ski racing here, it’s a particularly poignant question. Daron Rahlves was the guy who broke through at Birds of Prey with a win in 2003, the first American to win here in Beaver Creek. He was second to Miller in the 2004 Birds of Prey and called his shot before the 2005 edition, saying that finish order would be reversed.
Rahlves won here, and he also reached the top step in Kitzbuehel, Austria, and Wengen, Switzerland — the places where downhill greats have to win.
(For the purposes of this discussion, Bode Miller is not a pure downhiller. Respectfully, he’s in his own category of Bode-ness.)
Rahvles finished with 12 career wins — nine in DH, and three in super-G, and there really has been no one to assume the mantle since.
Steve Nyman appeared to be next. He was third in the 2006 Birds of Prey downhill, won by Bode after Rahlves had retired. Nyman won two weeks later in Val Gardena, Italy, but has been derailed by injuries, a familiar theme for this missive. He popped another win in Italy two seasons ago, but again the injuries.
While generally it’s the veterans who win downhills because a racer needs to have an encyclopedia of the circuit to win, Nyman is 32, and starting 46th in today’s downhill up in Lake Louise, Alberta. (I’d love to be wrong about Stevie Ny because you’ll rarely meet a nicer guy.)
Slightly longer in the tooth is Marco Sullivan, 34. He had a bronze in 2012 in Lake Louise. And while his green-hatted fans, who will be doubtless in attendance next weekend, will point out, their man won in Chamonix in 2007, there isn’t the consistency in results. (I’d like to be wrong about Marco because, well, he likes the Giants.)
Perhaps, we should stay in North Lake Tahoe for the possible next. Travis Ganong, 26, finished the 2013-14 season with a flourish. His final five World Cup/Olympic downhill starts were all top-10 finishes, including fifth in Sochi, Russia, and his first podium, third, in Kvitfjell, Norway.
Ganong cracked the top 10 in World Cup downhill points for the first time in his career, finishing ninth.
It may be starting click for Ganong. We start to find out today up in Lake Louise and down here next weekend.
Two Olympic medals and no World Cup podiums. It’s hard to figure out Andrew Weibrecht. But then again it isn’t.
He burst onto the scene here in 2007, skiing from the 53rd bib to 10th in the downhill in 2007 at Beaver Creek with a run that would have made Bode proud. (He’s down. He’s up. He’s down. He’s up.) That attacking style has yielded super-G bronze in Vancouver and silver in the same in Sochi.
There is injury risk with any alpine racer. It’s part of the sport, but Weibrecht, 28, has really gotten his money’s worth in the medical department — both ankles and both shoulders during the past four years.
The “War Horse,” by all reports, is healthy — knock wood — for the first time in a while. He was seventh in last year’s Kvitfjell super-G, his best World Cup finish yet, after the Olympic Games. He’s not going in today’s downhill but should be in Sunday’s super-G. He finished 26th in the discipline last year and should have a good start position.
Weibrecht doubtless would like to add some World Cup podiums to his Olympic medal collection. And this may be the year.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.