American speed skiers try to rebound in Beaver Creek
Team's thoughts are with TJ Lanning
By Brian Pinelli
It was a tough weekend in Lake Louise for the U.S Ski Team, particularly considering that they lost their teammate, TJ Lanning for the season after he crashed in last Saturday's opening downhill. Having since made their way to the familiar surroundings of Beaver Creek, the Americans seem upbeat and eager to tackle a mountain that they've had solid results on in years past.
Lanning, who has dealt with a string of injuries in recent seasons, found trouble on the fallaway section of Whitehorn Mountain, catching his right ski and barreling through a gate, resulting in a somersault and landing hard. He tore three ligaments in his left knee and suffering a non-displaced fracture of the C5 vertebrae in his neck. The Park City native is recovering at the Vail Valley Medical Center.
"It's a tough situation when you're in the gate and something like that happens," said Steve Nyman, who started 29th, four racers after Lanning. "When the helicopters come you know it's bad, especially when a teammate goes down, but it's part of the game."
"I've been friends with TJ since I was four years old," said Ted Ligety. "Seeing all the bad luck that he's had and the injuries is a real bummer. He's coming off an injury last year, but had been skiing great. It's bad timing, you definitely feel for the guy."
In the downhill won by Switzerland's Didier Cuche, the top American was Lake Placid's Andrew Weibrecht who finished 12th. In Sunday's super-G the U.S. results were somewhat better with Ligety finishing 8th, Weibrecht again 12th and Marco Sullivan 15th.
Ligety and teammates couldn't be happier to return to the Colorado Rockies for three key races this weekend; a super combined on Friday, the "Birds of Prey" downhill on Saturday and a giant slalom on Sunday.
"Racing in Beaver Creek is awesome," says Ligety, who was second in last year's GS and third a few years back. "It's five or six hours from Park City so I have my friends and family coming. It's cool to have a crowd that's U.S. biased. Everywhere we go, I'd say we're everybody's second favorite, but never anyone's favorite. It's cool in that respect."
"It's good to be on the home turf in Beaver Creek," added Nyman. "We all know this mountain well and have skied it plenty of times."
As always, there is great anticipation for Saturday's "Birds of Prey" downhill, a course designed by 1972 Olympic gold medalist, Bernhard Russi of Switzerland. U.S. skiers have fared well on the challenging piste - Bode Miller won here in 2005 & 2007 and was second in 2006. Utah's Nyman also has two of his three career downhill podiums here, but is still trying to get up to speed after knee surgery in August.
"Birds of Prey is a well-rounded downhill," said the 27-year-old Nyman. "It has all the aspects; gliding sections, big jumps and steep technical sections. You have to take your speed off the steep sections and really hammer carrying it onto the flat sections. It's a hill where you have to be mistake free."
Considering that two-time overall champion Miller finished 29th in last weekend's Lake Louise downhill, a strong showing from the veteran could do wonders for team morale.
"I think having Bode back has been good," said Ligety. "I wouldn't say it was that much different having him gone when he had his RV. He seems fully committed and I think having a guy like him around is good because he's such an innovator in the sport and always trying to push the limits."
Athletes got their first look at the "Birds of Prey," albeit on a shortened course due to snowfall and delays, during Wednesday's first training run. Weibrecht was the fastest American finishing tied for 6th and appears to be rounding into form.
"The kid has skied really well, he just needs to find his consistency," said Nyman. "He doesn't have the stature of a normal ski racer. He's smaller and huskier and very good on the technical side, but has to figure out the gliding and is working hard on that. Lake Louise is more of a gliding course and he came through this past weekend."
"Weibrecht is definitely a good all-around skier," said 2006 Olympic combined champion, Ligety. "His turns are even something that I watch. He's really good at building angles."
Erik Fisher, 24, was 8th in Wednesday's training, veteran Marco Sullivan tied for 10th, Miller 47th and Nyman 63rd.
Switzerland's Ambrosi Hoffman was fastest on the shortened course, after the start was moved down due to the weather conditions, clocking 49.07. Organizers hope to start Thursday's second training run from the top at an altitude of just below 3500 meters.
Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal is the defending "Birds of Prey" Champion. He won last year, after having crashed severely in 2007, landing terribly on the ‘Golden Eagle' compression and sustaining major injuries that ended his season.
Seven Americans are scheduled to start Thursday, with Nyman and Sullivan leading off 1-2. Miller skis 13th.
Check out the ‘Get Well TJ Lanning' Facebook page where the U.S. skier has over 1100 supporters.