Stellar day for the U.S. in men’s downhill
Special to the Vail Daily
BEAVER CREEK — Travis Ganong put down the run of his life on Saturday during the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships downhill race and in spite of the tremendous pressure on U.S. racers to perform at home, managed to pull it off.
The 26-year-old Squaw Valley, California, native shook off his nerves and a sleepless night to wake up and recall his passion for skiing. He charged down the sunny and cloudy Birds of Prey course to finish 0.24 seconds behind Swiss gold-medalist Patrick Kueng and collect the silver medal, his first piece of major hardware.
“I woke up this morning and I had so much pressure,” Ganong said. “I couldn’t really sleep much last night. But I woke up and said, ‘OK, I’ve skied my whole life. I’ve trained so hard the last couple of years. I love to ski. Let’s just go out and have some fun.’ All day long I was super relaxed and just having a good time.”
It’s no surprise that Ganong nabbed the silver medal. The downhill specialist has been landing top 10s on the World Cup since 2012 and finished fifth in the Sochi, Russia, Olympic downhill last year and then fifth on the Birds of Prey course in December. He went on to nail his first World Cup victory in Santa Caterina, Italy, just before the new year.
“This is the best moment of my career, for sure,” Ganong said after Saturday’s race. “I’ve been dreaming of this race for a couple of years now, ever since I knew World Champs would be on home soil. It’s just unreal to come here and perform like this.”
Advice from Mr. Rahlves
Retired racer and fellow Tahoe native Daron Rahlves, who won the Beaver Creek World Cup downhill race in 2003 and 2005 and holds the fastest time ever on the Birds of Prey downhill course, gave Ganong some key tips before the race when they rode the lift and did the inspection together.
“We watched a video from when he won in 2003. He showed me where to cut off the line, look for extra little time and get into your tuck. He’s been a great mentor,” Ganong said. “What Daron always teaches me is to look for aerodynamics in specific places so you can take the turn deep to get into that aerodynamic position.”
Ganong said he was also inspired before he entered the start house when he heard that U.S. Teammate Steven Nyman was sitting in a close second place.
“He radioed up and said the track is in perfect condition, just send it. That’s what I did,” Ganong said. “I was like, ‘OK, if he’s fast, I can be fast.’”
Nyman ended up in fourth place, 0.34 seconds off the win and a heartbreaking 0.03 seconds off of the podium.
When asked if he couldn’t help reviewing all of the places on course where he could have made up those hundredths of a second, Nyman said, “Yeah, I’m like, did I reach for the line?”
Nyman said he did make one clear mistake in his run coming into The Brink where he “went a little too straight and was low and had to jam.”
The veteran from Utah who will be 33 in a few days was nonetheless happy for his teammate and in spite of not training slalom for years will attempt the alpine combined race today.
“Congrats to Travis,” Nyman said. “I mean, obviously I’m pissed, but he laid it down. I’m happy for him. Hopefully we can keep the ball rolling. I’ve got some slalom skills in these legs.”
Weibrecht charges late
All in all, the Americans put down a tremendous performance in Saturday’s downhill, not least of which came from “The War Horse,” Andrew Weibrecht. Wearing bib No. 35, the two-time Olympic super-G medalist from Lake Placid, New York, who has yet to land on a World Cup podium and has only ever finished top 10 once in a downhill (in Beaver Creek way back in 2007), somehow managed to tie for ninth with Carlo Janka on Saturday, finishing just 0.67 seconds off of the winning pace.
Weibrecht was leading the race until dropping speed after the Harrier Jump. He was pleased with his run and is also looking forward to an opportunity to try it again in today’s combined.
“I knew I was skiing well,” Weibrecht said. “It’s always hard to tell. On that Flyway, I can be really slow sometimes. I knew I skied well down the pitch, pretty much the whole thing. I was really happy with my skiing today. I’m excited I have one more day to take a shot at this.”
The first racer on course, Jared Goldberg from Utah, finished 20th on Saturday, his second best career result in downhill since his 12th place in Wengen, Switzerland, last year.
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It was a close game, but after some thrilling back-and-forth plays the Rifle Bears were able to pull off the 28-20 victory over The Academy on May 1.