World Cup excitment begins a day early
“After today’s races, the training runs, the devil came out,” he said.
At issue was the use of knee and back braces by members of many different athletes, including top U.S. qualifier, Daron Rahlves, who was penalized for wearing a knee brace and knee warmer that didn’t measure up to the standards set by FIS. Rahlves would have started 29th today after qualifying second (the top 30 begins with the fastest time last), but now, after being disqualified from Friday’s run, last year’s super-G world champion will start 37th.
“I don’t think it’s going to affect him at all,” said John McBride, the U.S. men’s downhill head coach. “It’s not that much of a setback. It’s more of a distraction.”
McBride was one of the many outspoken coaches who questioned the decisions made by the race jury, composed of FIS officials and race coordinators. Norwegian coach Atle Skaardan brought up the point that this “illegal” equipment was being used by “80 percent of the racers.” McBride added that most of his team wore the same equipment but, because Rahlves had qualified so well, they unfairly singled him out for testing.
Hujara, who had spent a bit of time in the daily meeting Thursday going over the specific ruling, said the equipment was not “equally porous throughout.” Any brace or warmer must be worn under the suit and most have holes drilled in them to make the equipment more porous.
“The jury had no choice but to act like this,” Hujara said. “It was unanimous. There is no discussion. If the rules says something, and some are obeying the rules and some are not, then we have to act.”
McBride asked the jury to consider the safety factor, because many athletes use the knee and back braces and warmers as safety devices. FIS has two principles that determine its rules: the principle of safety and the principal of fairness.
Hujara simply reiterated his first statement, saying it applied to the rule of fairness.
After the meeting, McBride commented: “Yeah, it’s in the rules. I’m not looking to blame anyone else. It’s unfortunate. Having a knee brace doesn’t give you any advantage.”
But then it was the Americans’ time to accuse. Earlier in the day, the U.S. team caught on camera the Austrian team violating a rule prohibiting “outside help” on the mountain. With an appeal in place, the jury reviewed the tape, witnessed a coach passing on information to a racer about his time during the training run, and fined the team a little more than $700 and banned the coach in violation from the mountain today. The U.S. later dropped the appeal, but the jury still handed out the punishment.
“We didn’t want to penalize the athlete, by getting him disqualified,” McBride said. “The issue wasn’t brought up to get someone to forfeit. Rules are rules. We all want to ski on a level playing field.”
This is the first year such discussions have been necessary. In past World Cup seasons, training runs were for getting the racers used to the course and equipment. Now, the final training run helps determine the order of the downhill start order, meaning if this were last year, Rahlves and the eight others wouldn’t have been penalized.
So, after all the fines, disqualifications and discussions, a familiar face took the first qualifying spot into today’s downhill race. Austria’s Stephan Eberharter, last year’s overall World Cup champion, owned the fastest time of the day at 1 minute, 40.60 seconds, 0.04 seconds ahead of Rahlves. The Austrian leader skipped the training run Thursday and showed it didn’t matter. Still, the top four racers were separated by only 0.07 seconds, meaning starting positions might not be that important.
“I don’t think it matters because here we have great snow, good conditions and cold temperatures,” said Eberharter, describing what’s needed to keep the course from deteriorating. “It’s going to be an interesting race.”
The top U.S. qualifier, with Rahlves out of the picture, is another familiar face. Bode Miller qualified fifth and will start in 26th position.
Other Americans racing today include: Battle Mountain High School graduate Jacob Fiala, who now lives in Summit, starting third; Marco Sullivan, of Squaw Valley, Calif., starting seventh; Scott MacCartney, of Redmond, Wash., starting 58th; and Bryon Friedman, of Park City, Utah, starting 61st.
n A downhill run is based around pure speed. The gates on the course are spread far apart, allowing the racers to speed down the course at around 70 miles-per-hour. In a super-G race, the gates are closer together and the course is smaller, but the speeds will still be excessive.
n Admission is free to the public who can reach the run, which can’t be accessed by car.
Besides shuttle service and skier and snowboarder access, there is another option. Snowshoe up The Wagon Road to the finish area. On each race day, beginning at 9 a.m., the Beaver Creek Nordic Center will offer free snowshoe rentals until the supply runs out.
n Skier access starts at the top of the Centennial Lift (chair 6). Follow the Red Tail run to the Birds of Prey course crossing. Follow the crossing to the south end of the Birds of Prey finish area. Consult maps and signs for seating areas. (Be advised: Most of the terrain to the finish area is intermediate to advanced level.)
n Shuttles will run every five minutes starting at 7 a.m. until after the races, from both parking areas located at the base of Beaver Creek, dropping off at the covered bridge in Beaver Creek. From the covered bridge, access the “Downhill” bus that will travel to the Birds of Prey finish area. Skis will not be permitted on buses.
n The event is a project of the Vail Valley Foundation. For additional information on the event, call (970) 949-1999 or visit http://www.vvf.org.
Ryan Slabaugh is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. Contact him at (970) 949-0555 ext. 608 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.