It all ‘fits together’ for Gruber in downhill training
BEAVER CREEK – If there’s anything consistent in ski racing, it’s inconsistency. When you’re dealing with the World Cup, consistency usually pays off with the largest overall point total. But nobody wins every single race.And training/qualifying runs tell a different story altogether. Racers say training runs cannot be trusted as indicative of how the race will transpire.Austria’s Christoph Gruber had the fastest downhill training run at Beaver Creek on Tuesday, with a time of 1 minute, 44.45 seconds. Norwegian Bjarne Solbakken was next in 1:44.55, and Austrian Fritz Strobl third in 1:44.61. It would be no surprise to see any of these three on the podium come race day. Gruber has three World Cup victories under his belt, Strobl won last weekend’s downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta, as well as the 2002 Olympic downhill gold medal. And Solbakken was the 2003 silver medalist at the Birds of Prey downhill, as well as the super G winner.
Still, when racers approached the start gate Tuesday knowing that the run was either a training run, or, depending on the weather today, their qualifier for Friday’s DH race, one can surmise that all engines weren’t running at full throttle.”It’s not 100 percent,” Gruber said of his typical training-run effort. “I look to ski the right line after inspection and to ski good and ski fast. The difference between the training run and the race [efforts] should not be too big. It’s better to ski [the course] at the right speed. If in the race, I’m four seconds faster than training, it is not good.”Some racers had better find some seconds to tack onto their times if they want to stand a chance in the race. Bode Miller, for example, finished 42nd Tuesday, almost 2 1/2 seconds back. Austrian superstar Hermann Maier finished 47th in 1:46.98. Steven Nyman had the best result of the Americans, with a seventh-place finish (1:45.13) in spite of his challenging No. 47 start spot. Nyman closed last season with a downhill victory at the U.S. Championships, but has never had any fantastic World Cup speed event results. American speed maven Daron Rahlves had a fair run, tying for ninth with a time of 1:45.32. “I had a few problems,” Rahlves said, adding that he “got squashed” in the Talon turn and was too low and wide on the Flyway.
“This time of year, when you haven’t really experienced jumps, it was great to hit some of those,” he said. “You try to get back into the swing of things. After Lake Louise, which is pretty flat and easy, you come into Beaver Creek, and you have to be ready to go.”Rahlves concurred that his mind set in the start gate varies between training and racing.”It’s different,” he said. “You get everything smoothed out and just get a good feeling for the run. On race day, you’re a lot more attentive to lines and have more speed.”Racers view videos of their runs and get mental pictures of their aerodynamics, or lack of, to be mindful of on race day.
Still, in a sport like ski racing, especially in a discipline like downhill, where racers reach speeds of 90 mph, finish within hundredths of a second of one another and only get one run, anyone can have a good day or a bad day.”It’s the nature of the sport,” said Strobl, who won last year’s qualifying downhill run at Beaver Creek after injuring his eye a few days before in a crash at Lake Louise.”Sometimes if you are at a good level, you don’t have to do anything and it will be perfect,” he said. “But you have to think about the conditions.”In other words, a racer could be in top form, but land a starting position where a rut around a gate might slow him down, snow might start to fall during his run, the light might go flat, or a gust of wind might change the whole race.”There are a lot of uncontrollable factors,” Gruber said. “I had a race last year where we had some strong winds. I felt good, but I was 45th or something. You can only do your best and hope the conditions and the winds are OK. It all has to fit together.”
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