A look ahead (and back) to Birds of Prey week at Beaver Creek
BEAVER CREEK — We missed this.
Birds of Prey is back and despite the cancellation of training for Tuesday, Nov. 28, my bet is that we’re still a go.
I know people are freaking out about the weather, but Beaver Creek, the Vail Valley Foundation and the Talon Crew are going to move heaven and earth to get one training run off to fulfill the International Ski Federation — FIS — requirement of having a training run to hold the downhill.
If FIS were going to pull the plug, it would have done so before Thanksgiving. Beaver Creek and Birds of Prey got the go-ahead on Friday, Nov. 17. The athletes are here. They’re racing this weekend, even if John Garnsey has to come out of retirement to operate a snow gun himself.
And that brings us to the more pressing question of, what’s going to happen this weekend?
Something amazing is going to happen. It always does.
Previously at Birds of Prey …
• The 2015 edition started with a Norwegian throw-down as Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud went 1-2 with France’s Guillermo Fayed in third.
That was Svindal’s fifth career win here, tying him for second among active racers. (We’ll give you a few paragraphs for you to identify No. 1 and who’s tied for second with him.)
Svindal has a fantastic history here. In 2006, he was the beneficiary of Bode Miller’s brain freeze. Miller led the super-combined by nearly 2 seconds and managed to ski off course as the last racer of the day. At the time, it was only Svindal’s third career win. (He’s now sitting on 32.)
Svindal returned in 2007, executing one of the greatest crashes we’ve ever seen off Golden Eagle in training.
All he did in 2008 was return to the scene of his demise and win the downhill and super-G on consecutive days. Injured for the entire 2014-15 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, he still skied at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships at Beaver Creek, recording top-10 finishes in both the downhill and super-G.
• While the 2015 downhill had a sense of history, its super-G got wacky. Austria’s Marcel Hirscher edged out Americans Ted Ligety and Andrew Weibrecht.
Hirscher is a lot of things, including the best men’s ski racer of this generation, but a speedster he is not.
That result remains the Austrian’s only speed win of his career. Ligety? He hadn’t finished on the podium in a World Cup super-G in six years before that. World Championships aren’t counted in World Cup totals, people. (Yes, he won the 2013 Worlds super-G in Austria.)
And the Olympics don’t count toward World Cup totals, so Weibrecht actually got his first tour podium despite Olympic medals in 2010 and 2014.
• The giant slalom at Birds of Prey is generally a Ligety-Hirscher affair since the two have won the eight races in this discipline here. (Switzerland’s Carlo Janka in 2009 was the last person not named Ted Ligety or Marcel Hirscher to win a GS in Beaver Creek).
Ligety had won six times here in GS, the most wins at Birds of Prey among active World Cup racers, so it was quite the surprise when he skied out during his first run in 2015.
That left the gate wide open for Hirscher to win for the fifth time at Beaver Creek, tying him with Svindal.
Atop in Alberta
The downhill and super-G last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta, is not a guarantee for what will happen at Birds of Prey. The courses are vastly different, but …
• Switzerland’s Beat Feuz won the downhill, followed by Austria’s Matthias Mayer and Svindal.
Feuz won bronze here at the 2015 Worlds and took downhill gold at the 2017 Championships in his home country. Mayer’s the defending downhill Olympic champion, and we’ve already discussed Svindal, so that’s a podium of Birds of Prey contenders.
• In the super-G, Jansrud won, followed by Austria’s Max Franz and Hannes Reichelt.
Jansrud skis well here and has a history of carrying momentum to Beaver Creek from Lake Louise. Reichelt is also a name to remember, particularly in the super-G on Thursday, Dec. 1.
He won his first World Cup race, a super-G on Dec. 1, 2005. Hmm. Three of Reichelt’s 13 World Cup wins have been at the Birds of Prey super-G. The 2015 Worlds super-G here? He won that, too.
• Norway, Italy and Austria packed the top 10 in both races in Lake Louise. Look out for those three.
Eyes on Alberta
And, yes, while there is racing here, just remember we’re a part of a primetime doubleheader for Europe.
The skiing world watches the Birds of Prey races here and then heads north for the women at Lake Lindsey.
This brings us to Lindsey Vonn. Madame has 18 career wins at Lake Louise, and 25 podiums overall there. She has swept all three races, two downhills and a super-G, in three different years (2011, 2012 and 2015).
By all accounts, Vonn is healthy and the prohibitive favorite this week.
Then, there’s Mikaela Shiffrin. Yes, it’s early, but with a slalom win in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday, Nov. 26, Shiffrin has the early lead in the overall.
Shiffrin has competed in the Lake Louise speed races relatively well — in the points in three of her four starts there. Can she find her way into the top 10 and earn more points in her quest to repeat of the overall champion?
Answers to this question and more come this week.
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