Beaver Creek World Cup: Is there cause for hope for American men? Maybe.
BEAVER CREEK — It’s early.
Just keep reminding yourself it’s early.
But, if you’re an American ski-racing fan, you may almost feel like cuing up the opening credits of the original “Star Wars.”
Episode IV: A New Hope.
“It is a period of civil war (or domination of European ski teams). Rebel spaceships (aka the U.S. Ski Team), striking from a hidden base (Beaver Creek), have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire (Europe).”
Yes, that’s over the top. Europe isn’t evil and the Americans didn’t win during Friday’s Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS World Cup downhill, but the U.S. Men’s Ski Team, coming off an awful 2017-18 season, may be showing some signs of life.
The red, white and blue had two in the top 10 — Steven Nyman and Bryce Bennett tied for ninth.
At last year’s Birds of Prey, the team’s highest finish in the two speed events was 21st — Bennett in the downhill and the now retired Andrew Weibrecht in the super-G.
The thing that could give fans confidence is that Friday marks two good weeks in a row for the duo. Bennett was 12th last week at Lake Louise. Nyman was 11th.
Perhaps this is the beginning of some consistency?
We may get an answer soon. The next stop on the speed side is Val Gardena, Italy, during the second week of December. All of Nyman’s three career World Cup wins have come from there. Bennett is also a big fan of that course. His best World Cup finish is sixth there in 2015.
For the time being, though, it seems that Nyman is healthy. He said earlier this week that he probably came back too early last year and didn’t have the confidence to let it go.
Meanwhile, Travis Ganong, the most accomplished speedster of the men, is still coming back from his ACL injury. As he said, he’s only 10 months into what is normally an 18-month process.
He’ll get comfortable and the speed will come, and that gives the U.S. Team three threats for the top 10.
It’s early, but the U.S. speed team should be able to break its podium drought soon.
It’s an outdoor sport and weather plays a role. Using the weather start, or starting Friday’s downhill at a lower altitude, was the correct choice, but it does lead to some interesting hypotheticals.
• If the start was all the way at the top, does Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal leap from third to first, taking advantage of the flats up top? Svindal was gracious in the post-race news conference, giving winner Beat Feuz all the credit.
• Does having raced essentially the super-G course on Friday give anyone an advantage for the actual super-G on Saturday? We ask because six first-time winners have won the super-G. Do the veterans use the downhill as a pseudo-super-G training run?
And, by the way, good call by FIS and the Vail Valley Foundation for moving the downhill to Friday. They got the race in, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed for the super-G on Saturday.
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