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Mogul marvel

DEVON O'NEIL

The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association markets all of its national teams, from alpine to aerials, under the label “Best in the World.”You might have a tough time guessing which squad fits the bill best. Hint: It’s not the one that Bode Miller skis for.No, this distinction falls to the mogul-skiing freestylers. The bumpers and jumpers. The team that, on the men’s side alone this year, won nine straight World Cup events – including six in a row by one skier, Jeremy Bloom.Yet because of Bode’s pursuit of the overall World Cup alpine championship – he has led all season, and is in front of Austrian Benni Raich by 108 points going into the final three races this weekend – the mogul skiers have been overshadowed.It’s nothing new. The athletes and coaches are used to it, in fact. Despite the all-encompassing skiing talent required to compete in moguls on the freestyle World Cup, they have always been upstaged by those who go fastest.

Call it a product of Europe’s obsession with downhill gates racing, which leads to bigger dollars invested in the alpine World Cup than in any other skiing or snowboarding discipline.Regardless, there is no team in winter sports doing more on an international level than the U.S. moguls skiers. Not even Hermann Maier, Raich and the Austrian alpiners.In addition to the nine consecutive men’s victories, there is this statistic: From January 2003 to the penultimate event this season, the U.S. put at least two skiers on the podium at every competition between the men and women. Sometimes the number was four or five.For U.S. moguls coach Scott Rawles, this year’s domination still isn’t as impressive as the two-year podium run.”I look at that stat, and I go, That’s some pretty amazing consistency at a very high level,” Rawles, who lives in Breckenridge and has been a coach with the national team since 1999, said on Thursday.

The men’s nine-event win streak was no simple feat, either. Bloom’s awesome tear tied the consecutive victories record set by the late Sergei Shupletsov of Russia; Shupletsov won the final event in 1994 then the first five in 1995. Whereas Rawles called Shupletsov “untouchable” during his run, however, the coach said Bloom was not. Rather, Rawles said of the skier he has coached since age 11, “Jeremy just took it run by run and let the results take care of themselves.”Not surprisingly, Bloom’s stiffest competition during his streak came from his teammates. Before the six-pack of victories – which included two dual (head-to-head) moguls victories and four singles – fellow Rocky Mountain rippers Toby Dawson (Vail), Travis Mayer (Steamboat) and Nate Roberts (Park City, Utah) took turns at the top of the podium to knock out the first third of the team’s nine straight wins.In the final World Cup standings, the Americans filled five of the top seven slots – Bloom first, Roberts third, Travis Cabral fifth, Mayer sixth and Dawson seventh. What’s more, Team Summit alumnus Dave Babic was 12th, and former Breckenridge resident Luke Westerlund finished 14th.This is all wonderful, the wins, the teamwide domination, the consistency – until you consider the fast-approaching 2006 Olympics in Italy, every current world-class skier’s ultimate goal.There, the U.S. only will be able to enter four into the men’s moguls competition. And so it becomes, Steve Young or Joe Montana?

“Thankfully, it’s out of our hands,” Rawles said. “It’s all results driven.”The team will be determined by World Cup results, though not necessarily by overall standings. For instance, Rawles said, a skier who wins twice but crashes in the rest of his events likely will be chosen over one who finishes a consistent fifth throughout the year.Nonetheless, just gauging from this year’s final overall standings, we could theoretically see someone like Dawson – the seventh-ranked moguls skier in the world but fifth on the U.S. Team – left out of the Olympics while far less-talented competitors make it from other nations.No other team has issues like that. Then again, no other team is like this one.Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 231, or at doneil@summitdaily.com.


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