With a podium in tow, Sullivan’s ready | VailDaily.com

With a podium in tow, Sullivan’s ready

Ian Cropp
Vail, CO Colorado
SPT Marco Sullivan DT 11-27-07

BEAVER CREEK ” The table was set for Marco Sullivan’s comeback.

Last December, three years after suffering torn knee ligaments during a downhill training run at Beaver Creek, Sullivan picked up his second career World Cup top-10 finish. Two weeks later, Sullivan took fourth in Val Gardena, Italy, missing the podium by .01 seconds.

With the taste of a podium on his lips, Sullivan was ready to dig in.

“It was like, ‘All right, I’m back,’ and looking forward to this killer season,” Sullivan said. “Then I had a couple crashes, lost my serviceman, had some issues and never got back into top 10 the rest of the year.”

But Sullivan wasn’t deterred one bit.

“I worked on things this summer and got everything back in line,” he said.

Early in the fall, however, Sullivan broke both of his heels while training in Chile. So it was an extra tasty feast last weekend when Sullivan picked up his first podium with a second-place finish in a downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta.

“You think, looking into the season, ‘All right, maybe I can podium here and start the momentum rolling,'” Sullivan said. “Just to do it right away was a big monkey off my back and gives me confidence for everything moving forward.”

Steven Nyman, who grabbed his first podium and first career win last year, knew Sullivan was primed.

“You can feel it ” his intensity,” Nyman said. “He got fourth last year and I think it was good he got fourth and not third because it just made him hungry. He wanted it all summer long. The same thing happened to me the year prior. He knows he can win. I know he can win.”

Then there was the incident in Chile.

“When he cleared that jump 100 meters and broke both of his heels, you are just like, ‘Great, that’s not what we want to start.’ But to come back and do that is awesome and we’re all stoked for him.”

Head Alpine Coach Phil McNichol wasn’t shocked by Sullivan’s result.

“The only surprise is it has taken as long as it has for him to be on the podium,” McNichol said. “He’s an extremely talented individual.”

After the injury in Chile, Sullivan had to wait about six weeks for his bones to heal, and didn’t loose much in terms of preparation for this season. And the partial setback really paled in comparison with the long-lasting mental speed bumps from the knee injury.

“You have to fool your mind into thinking it’s safe,” Sullivan said. “The only way you do that is with a ton of training and mental training and getting out there and doing it over and over and showing yourself you are safe again. I finally did that. In a sport like this, where every second you are in danger, you have to be fully focused and fully committed to what you are doing.”

McNichol has been impressed with Sullivan’s fortitude.

“It’s quite a journey to lose two full seasons through injury and then work your way back up and then achieve a podium performance at the World Cup,” McNichol said.

Before his injury, Sullivan was tearing it up in the North American Cup (he won the downhill, super-G and overall title in 2001) and European Cup as he made his transition to the World Cup.

“He was right at the perfect curve, and then he goes out,” McNichol said. “It’s more accolade to his talent that he was able to go back to where he is.”

Sullivan’s reemergence come at a great time for a team that lost two dominant speed racers over the past two years in Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller.

“As a leader, he’s clearly emerging in all aspects ” his leadership in the program, his personal development, experience and success,” McNichol said. “Some people were saying, ‘Who is the new guy Sullivan?’ He’s the new guy that’s been around.”

Sullivan got a taste of the new role Tuesday after downhill training.

“People were asking me, ‘Marco, what are you going to do on this turn,’ and I’m like, ‘You would have never asked me that last week,’ but you know, it’s cool,” he said. “People are realizing I’m skiing well and I want to try and help my teammates out as much as I can. Nyman, myself and (Scott Macartney) ” guys who have been to every World Cup and have experience, even though we lack in the podium department ” we are striving for ourselves and trying to bring everyone with us.”

Sullivan is hoping to keep things rolling this week ” where he first dipped into the top 10 with a sixth-place finish in 2002 ” and as the season unfolds, he’ll be looking for more top finishes.

“This year, week by week I’m trying to get back on the podium,” Sullivan said.

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

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