Alpine

The American Downhillers vs. The Streif

by
Megan Harrod
2017-01-19 12:59
 

KITZBUEHEL, Austria (Jan. 19, 2017) – The excitement in Tirol is so palpable, it’s like Christmas Eve. The famous “Flying Bulls” whiz by overhead in their beautiful bombers, black and white wispy smoke circles swirling in the air, leaving magic in their dust for all Kitzbuehel guests to marvel at with their mouths open. Even more jaw-dropping are the athletes hurling their bodies down the Streif at 130km/hr. This is Kitzbuehel: the Super Bowl of ski racing in Austria. And ski legends await their coronation.

What’s it like to fly? Ask the American Downhillers. Leave the start gate at the Hahnenkamm and you’re greeted with one of the gnarliest “hellos” you’ll ever receive: the Mausefalle, where you’ll experience 60-80 meters of flight, fueled by fear and adrenaline. That’s just the start of the excitement, though. It’s a rock-hard, bumpy 2.5k ride from there to the finish.

Leaving the start gate is an honor and crossing the finish line is a blessing in Kitzbuehel. Athletes cross the finish line and let out a sigh of relief, with good reason. This year, the Streif is quite the ominous beast of a competitor.

Every weekend is an away game for the American Downhillers. But, there are some legends in town amongst the 70,000-plus fans this weekend at the ski racing Mecca to make them feel like it’s a home game: Daron Rahlves. AJ Kitt. Chad Fleischer. Bode Miller. They’re all here to watch the biggest show on snow on Saturday, where Steven Nyman (Sundance, UT) has said, “It’s a sea of black as you’re coming into the finish area…it’s like you’re skiing into a football stadium.”

Nyman heads into the weekend at Kitzbuehel having finished on the podium in five of his last six downhill races. This consistency has given Nyman confidence and he knows he can podium here. Last season Nyman had fast splits until he DNFed, but with a fifth two seasons ago and a clean, fast—the fastestfirst downhill training run on Wednesday, Nyman is confident with his plan of attack.

Bennett
Bryce Bennett competes during the third downhill run for Saturday’s Audi FIS Ski World Cup at the Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuehel, Austria. (Gett Images/AFP-Joe Klamer)

“Yeah, I’m confident,” noted Nyman after his second training run Thursday. “Yesterday we had a lot of video analysis. I want to try a couple of new lines, and there are definitely some lines I know are faster that I’ll try to hit on race day. The way I am over my skis and how I’m feeling is good, so I’ll stick with that, stick to the basics, ski solid and hope for the best.”

The most unforgiving track on the Audi FIS Ski World Cup circuit, the Streif has claimed its fair share of downhillers. In the second and final training run today, the Streif was victorious in a battle against three top American Downhillers: Nyman, Travis Ganong (Squaw Valley, CA) and Andrew Weibrecht (Lake Placid, NY) – who took the risky, bad boy line in training, straddling after the Hausberg and crashing into the nets back-first. Thankfully, he emerged unscathed and will look to reset mentally heading into the weekend.

“It’s tough, but you just have to do it,” Weibrecht said. “You just have to get up and keep going at it. Sometimes a crash like this is almost helpful for your psyche, I think, because to take a crash like that and walk away – it kind of makes you feel a little bit more invincible and like you’re willing to take the risk because you think you’ll be fine.”

What goes through your mind in the start gate? It’s kind of a game day decision whether or not you’re going to commit to sending it, and putting it all out there on the linecalculated risk taking.

The American Downhiller: Episode 2 from Ski Racing on Vimeo.

“As much as I want to come here and just have the tenacity to give it all the way and put in a decent run, that was my fourth run ever down it, so it is just taking the steps to learn,” said Bryce Bennett (Squaw Valley, CA) following training Thursday. “Steven has been helping me out a bunch during inspection, helping me to look at different lines and figure out what it actually takes to win this thing. And then figuring out how to play with those different, straighter lines and what I need to do to eventually win this.”

The weekend’s festivities will include a super G on Friday, followed by the Hahnenkamm downhill on Saturday and topped off with slalom on Sunday, where David Chodounsky (Crested Butte, CO) looks to put two solid runs together to lead a talented and promising group of slalom skiers, hungry for points.

The women's tour faces a weekend of challenging races with a downhill and super G in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany Saturday and Sunday. Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO) was 10th fastest in Thursday's opening training run. The ladies will have one more look at the downhill track on Friday before the action kicks off on Saturday with downhill. They’ll look to carry their momentum from last weekend’s strong finish in Zauchensee, where Lindsey Vonn Foundation Ambassador Jackie Wiles (Aurora, OR) grabbed her career-first World Cup podium and led five Americans into the points.

Road to Aspen Audi FIS Ski World Cup Finals
Austria’s Marcel Hirscher retains a 281-point lead over Norway's Henrik Kristoffersen for the overall lead going into a speed heavy weekend for the men. Look for fourth place Attacking Viking Kjetil Jansrud to creep up in the points with the downhill and super G in Kitzbuehel, but then a face-off between Hirscher and Kristoffersen in Sunday's slalom. With downhill leader Aksel Lund Svindal out for the season, watch for a battle between Jansrud and Austria's Max Franz for the lead this weekend. Jansrud will also put his perfect three-for-three super G record on the line Friday.

Mikaela Shiffrin still holds a 315-point lead over Swiss Lara Gut. Watch for Gut to whittle that back in the speed events where Shiffrin will not start. But the American will have another shot on Tuesday with a giant slalom in Kronplatz, Italy. And watch out for Slovenian Ilka Stuhec who has a large lead over Gut in the downhill. The battle for World Cup crystal globes will conclude in Aspen this March with the Audi FIS Ski World Cup Finals.

CONFIRMED STARTERS
Garmisch, Germany and Kronplatz, Italy  – Women:
Stacey Cook (Mammoth Lakes, CA) – DH, SG
Breezy Johnson (Victor, ID) – DH, SG
Anna Marno (Centennial, WY) – SG
Megan McJames (Park City, UT) – GS
Alice McKennis (New Castle, CO) – DH, SG
Alice Merryweather (Hingham, MA) – SG
Laurenne Ross (Bend, OR) – DH, SG
Mikaela Shiffrin (Eagle-Vail, CO) – GS
Leanne Smith (North Conway, NH) – DH, SG
Resi Stiegler (Jackson, WY) – GS
Jackie Wiles (Aurora, OR) – DH, SG
Lindsey Vonn (Vail, CO) – DH, SG

Kitzbuehel and Schladming, Austria – Men: 
Michael Ankeny (Deephaven, MN) – SL
David Chodounsky (Crested Butte, CO) – SL
Bryce Bennett (Squaw Valley, CA) – SG, DH
Tommy Biesemeyer (Keene, NY) – SG, DH
Ryan Cochran-Siegle (Starksboro, VT) – SG, SL
Mark Engel (Truckee, CA) – SL
Travis Ganong (Squaw Valley, CA) – SG, DH
AJ Ginnis (Vouliagmeni, Greece) – SL
Jared Goldberg (Holladay, UT) – SG, DH
Robby Kelley (Starksboro, VT) – SL
Steve Nyman (Sundance, UT) – SG, DH
Andrew Weibrecht (Lake Placid, NY) – SG, DH

QUOTES
Steven Nyman
I’m confident. Yesterday we had a lot of video analysis. I want to try a couple of new lines, and there are definitely some lines I know are faster that I’ll try to hit on race day. The way I am over my skis and how I’m feeling is good, so I’ll stick with that, stick to the basics, ski solid and hope for the best.

Bryce Bennett
As much as I want to come here and just have the tenacity to give it all the way and put in a decent run, that was my fourth run ever down it, so it is just taking the steps to learn. Steven (Nyman) has been helping me out a bunch during inspection, helping me to look at different lines and figure out what it actually takes to win this thing. And then, you know, figuring out how to play with those different, straighter lines and what I need to do to eventually win this.

[On what has changed in the course this season]
They ran a Europa Cup two days before we came here, so the top of the course is actually pretty bumpy, and into the Steilhang is bumpy too. So, that part is hard, but after that they’ve done a really nice job. On the Hausberg, it’s bumpy but it isn’t too bad.

Andrew Weibrecht
To me, it feels icier and bumpier than it did the past years. Unless you’re super precise with your skiing, you’re going to bounce around and you’re not really able to run a clean ski. I think it’s super tough, and I’ve struggled to make the adjustment. Everyone’s gotta ski the same course, so it doesn’t really matter. It’s definitely tricky…super bumpy, and gnarly. I think they [make it tough] intentionally, and it’s at the expense of the athletes, but it makes for epic racing.

[On how you clear your mind after a crash]
It’s tough, but you just have to do it. You just have to get up and keep going at it. Sometimes a crash like this is almost helpful for your psyche because to take a crash like that and walk away – it kind of makes you feel a little bit more invincible and like you’re willing to take the risk because you think you’ll be fine.

BROADCAST AND LIVE STREAMING (times EST)
All events streaming at www.nbcsports.com/live

Friday, Jan. 20
5:15 a.m. – Men’s super G, Kitzbuehel – nbcsports.com – LIVE STREAM
2:30 p.m. – Men’s super G, Kitzbuehel – Universal HD

Saturday, Jan. 21
4:00 a.m. – Women’s downhill, Garmisch – nbcsports.com – LIVE STREAM
5:15 a.m. – Men’s downhill, Kitzbuehel – nbcsports.com – LIVE STREAM
3:00 p.m. – Women’s downhill, Garmisch – NBCSN
4:30 p.m. – Men’s downhill, Kitzbuehel – NBCSN

Sunday, Jan. 22
4:15 a.m. – Men’s slalom run 1, Kitzbuehel – nbcsports.com – LIVE STREAM
5:45 a.m. – Women’s super G, Garmisch – nbcsports.com – LIVE STREAM
7:15 a.m. – Men’s slalom run 2, Kitzbuehel – nbcsports.com – LIVE STREAM
4:00 p.m. – Men’s slalom, Kitzbuehel – NBCSN
6:30 p.m. – Women’s super G, Garmisch – Universal HD

Tuesday, Jan. 24
3:15 a.m. – Women’s giant slalom run 1, Kronplatz – nbcsports.com – LIVE STREAM
6:15 a.m. – Women’s giant slalom run 2, Kronplatz – nbcsports.com – LIVE STREAM
11:20 a.m. – Men’s slalom run 1, Schladming – nbcsports.com – LIVE STREAM
2:20 p.m. – Men’s slalom run 2, Schladming – nbcsports.com – LIVE STREAM
6:00 p.m. – Women’s giant slalom, Kronplatz – Universal HD
10:30 p.m. – Men’s slalom, Schladming – NBCSN

Live streaming available on NBCsports.com/Live and the NBC Sports app, which is available on the iTunes App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV and Amazon Fire.