The winners and losers of Birds of Prey
December 4, 2017
BEAVER CREEK — And the big winner of Birds of Prey World Cup weekend?
We’re used to having split vision when the men stop in Beaver Creek, but we’re usually looking north to Lindsey Vonn.
Miss Shiffrin certainly put down the hammer up in Lake Louise, Alberta, winning one downhill, finishing third in another and taking fifth in the super-G. Last year, Shiffrin scored 206 points outside of tech events — giant slalom and slalom — and won her first World Cup championship by 318 points. This weekend, she had 205 during the speed events alone.
For crying out loud, Shiffrin leaves for Europe ranked No. 1 in the downhill. (Yes, it’s a small sample size, but it’s fun to write.)
The broader question is, “How much does Mikaela expand into speed this season?” Lake Louise is a natural place of Shiffrin to broaden her skill set — the first speed stop of the season and not the most terrifying hill on the circuit. This is the third year in a row she’s raced there, so she has some familiarity.
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It’s not hard to envision her running in super-G in Cortina, Italy. Before this weekend, her best speed result was fourth there.
We may get our answer as soon as Friday, Dec. 8, in St. Moritz, Switzerland. As the ladies head to Europe, their first event is a combined. Shiffrin won her first combined event last season in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, on Feb. 24.
The thinking then was, “Just stay close in the speed and hammer the tech.” Now that she’s getting her mojo going in speed, it’s pretty safe to say she can do more than “just stay close,” in this super-G/slalom St. Moritz combined.
Bigger picture, this makes Shiffrin a medal contender in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in three events — GS, slalom and combined.
OK, BIRDS OF PREY WINNERS, PART II
The actual Birds of Prey winners are Norway, Austria and Marcel Hirscher.
• “Land of Mountains” played twice this weekend for Vincent Kriechmayr after his super-G win on Friday, Dec. 1, and for Hirscher after the GS on Sunday, Dec. 3.
Through six men’s races this year, Austria has six podiums. While Austria continues to struggle in the Birds of Prey downhill — strange — this is more like it.
Bravo to Kriechmayr for his first World Cup win. I don’t think Americans realize how much of a life-changer that is. In a nation where ski racing is a religion, he becomes a hero.
Kriechmayr also had the reputation of always being fast, but prone to the key mistake. If he were on the U.S. Ski Team — and we’ll get that later — he’d keep getting starts.
That’s not the case in Austria. You move it or lose it. Kriechmayr won a lot more than a World Cup on Friday.
• While the Swiss are Austria’s storied rivals, Norway seems to be the team that will be challenging the red and white.
There are four prominent names — Aksel Lund Svindal (Saturday, Dec. 2’s downhill winner), Kjetil Jansrud (second in Friday’s super-G), Henrik Kristoffersen (second in the GS) and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, who struggled a bit this weekend, though he was eighth in the super-G.
This is like wack-a-mole. Every time you look up, you see a Norwegian.
• Hirscher can prattle all he wants about how Sunday’s win was a surprise after his injury (broken ankle). We call you-know-what.
He was 17th in the Levi, Finland, slalom last month, which was essentially a trial run. Sunday was back-to-normal Hirscher — in complete command. He won by 0.88 seconds. That’s not close, folks.
He’s back and he’s gunning for World Cup championship No. 7.
BIRDS OF PREY WINNERS, PART III
Another winner from this weekend was everyone involved in getting these races in from Beaver Creek to the Vail Valley Foundation to the Talon Crew.
The weather was just bad for ski racing this fall, be it temperatures or a lack of snowfall. All involved moved heaven and Earth, perhaps a little more of the latter in the form of man-made snow.
The weather cooperated with cloud cover for the second run of Sunday’s GS, so the course didn’t turn into slush, but every racer I talked to was so excited about the conditions, given the lack of snow for the North America swing.
Everyone involved has earned a well-deserved nap.
RED, WHITE AND VERY BLUE
Yes, we are dealing with a small sample size, but the American men are not off to a good start. While we note the small sample size, the United States usually gets a bounce at Birds of Prey, racing on home snow.
• Travis Ganong is struggling. It happens, I know, but tied for 30th in the downhill here after scuffling in Lake Louise?
The best speed finish was 21st this weekend — Andrew Weibrecht in super-G and Bryce Bennett in the same position in downhill. That’s a problem.
Steve Nyman is still coming back from his knee exploding last season. I’m rooting for him, but he’s got to get some World Cups under his belt if he wants to make the Olympic squad.
Sure, Weicbrecht may perform some Olympic magic again — he has super-G medals from 2010 and 2014, but men’s speed isn’t looking too hot.
• Ted Ligety looked like Ted in Sunday’s first run of the GS, and struggled in his second, finishing seventh. Our standards are so high for him at Beaver Creek because he always seems to pull the rabbit out of his hat here.
He gets a little benefit of the doubt, coming off knee and back injuries with his history. Maybe, we call this GS his first race back from injury, which it was as far as giant slalom goes. The Birds of Prey GS is a gasser — the altitude at the finish is 8,900 feet, easily the highest on tour — and being in race shape is different than regular conditioning.
Maybe, however, Ligety, 33, is coming to the end. Time will tell.
Regardless, I’m going to say when he retires, a part of Birds of Prey has to be named for him, same as Rahlves’ Roll and Miller’s Revenge.
Very cool move, by the way, with Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller.
Name the three active racers who have the most wins at Birds of Prey?
Ligety held the mark with six and Svindal and Hirscher made it three-way tie with wins this weekend.
Can one of these three make it to eight, Hermann Maier’s mark?
The saga continues next year.
Vail Daily Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.