U.S. women hoping for Beaver Creek repeat | AspenTimes.com

U.S. women hoping for Beaver Creek repeat

Jon Maletz

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

The U.S. Women’s Ski Team is hoping its performance in this weekend’s Aspen Winternational will be the ultimate compliment to their male counterparts.

The women watched Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller finish 1-2 at Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey downhill Saturday for a second consecutive season. They watched the same duo take the top two spots in giant slalom and Ted Ligety climb the podium after a third-place finish in the slalom on Sunday.

A hundred miles away in Aspen, the women are eager to write a little history of their own in their only World Cup alpine performance of the year in the states. The U.S. women are confident that, like in Beaver Creek, racing fans will see some recognizable faces on the Aspen Gondola Plaza stage come race day.

“There is camaraderie between the teams, and hopefully there is some energy we can draw from one another,” 10-year team veteran Caroline Lalive said at a U.S. Ski Team press conference Wednesday. “We’re not in competition. This only builds the strength of the team. It also gives us something to look forward to.”

The anticipation will be building until the super G kicks off at 11 a.m. Friday. The athletes will have one hour to test their legs and their equipment on the course this morning during a free ski. Then they wait.

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The expectations have grown since the women’s team showcased its depth last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta. Lindsey Kildow, 21, came away with a win in the downhill Saturday. She was sixth in the super G, in which five Americans finished in the top 14. Three U.S. women finished in the top 10 in Friday’s downhill competition.

The U.S. performance last year in Aspen was lukewarm. Kristina Koznick did finish third in the second race of the slalom but was one of only three Americans to qualify for a second run. No American finished in the top 20 in the giant slalom.

The pressure is on. Kildow, who has shouldered the burden of being the heir apparent to Picabo Street, sees this weekend as a great opportunity.

“It’s a time when we need to show the American public how we’re doing as a team, to show them World Cup skiing,” she said. “It was good to start off with a good result, and hopefully I can carry it forward.”

Problems with her equipment cost Kildow last year in Aspen. She failed to qualify for a second run in each of the two slalom races she entered. She said she’s confident the problems have been alleviated, as evidenced by her early season success.

This year’s courses and field promises to be as challenging as ever. Last year’s giant slalom and slalom winner Tanja Poutiainen of Finland will be looking to defend her titles. Janica Kostelic of Croatia, who won the second slalom, and Sweden’s Anja Paerson remain prominent and daunting obstacles.

The U.S. women, however, feel comfortable on Aspen Mountain. The technical events have proven as tough as any test on the World Cup circuit, veteran Kirsten Clark said. The training and positive momentum should keep them in contention throughout the weekend.

The U.S. competitors are also excited about the return of the super G to the race lineup after its notable absence in 2004.

“I love the course,” Clark said. “There’s a lot of terrain up there and it will require some good inspection. In Lake Louise, we all performed really well and that’s huge for this team. We go into Aspen with more confidence. We know we are capable of winning. It’s always a lot of fun to race on the home soil.”

There will be distractions. Fans and press will undoubtedly heighten the Olympic hype swirling around them. Turin could be a coming-out party for some and a swan song for others.

The young Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club members who line the finish area will be squinting for views of them. Friends and family will be flying in from all over the country to watch them compete for what may be the only time all year. “It’s nice to be surrounded by family and friends,” alpine B team member Kaylin Richardson said. “We don’t get that chance very often.”

But the skiers insist they will not be sidetracked this weekend. They don’t want to miss out on this opportunity. One opportunity to impress the home crowd. One opportunity to make it count and to continue in the footsteps left in the deep Colorado snow by their male counterparts.

There will be no looking ahead of Aspen.

“I don’t know where the future lies, but I love the fact that I’m ski racing right now,” Lalive said. “Right now, I’m going to try and embrace the moment.”

Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com