U.S. men’s ski team looking ahead after difficult season, injuries
Oregon’s Tommy Ford will be flying solo this weekend.
The lone American male competing in a World Cup Finals technical race in Aspen, Ford has become the last man standing for the U.S. Ski Team after what can only be described as a difficult season for the red, white and blue.
“There is a lot of frustration, obviously,” said injured U.S. speed specialist Steven Nyman, who was sporting crutches this week in Aspen. “I had very high expectations and I had a lot of momentum, but only raced three races.”
Nyman’s story is indicative of the sort of season the U.S. men have had. The 35-year-old suffered a season-ending knee injury while competing in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, in January, a major blow for a team that also has been without technical star Ted Ligety and two-time overall champion Bode Miller.
“When you lose anybody on your team, it’s always tough,” U.S. men’s head coach Sasha Rearick said. “When you lose the real leader within the whole team, in the speed team, that took a hit on us. I don’t think we’ve recovered from it yet.”
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Unlike the American women, led this weekend by soon-to-be overall champion Mikaela Shiffrin and a deep speed unit led by Lindsey Vonn, the U.S. men have little to no presence in the Aspen finals. Travis Ganong and Andrew Weibrecht were the only Americans to qualify for the men’s speed races, Ganong taking 17th in Wednesday’s downhill and eighth in Thursday’s super-G, while Weibrecht was 17th in super-G. Youngster Sam Morse competed in the downhill, as well, but only qualified after he won the world junior championship the week before in Sweden. He was 21st.
While Ligety would be qualified to compete in Saturday’s giant slalom alongside Ford, a back surgery in January also brought an early end to his season. This came only a month before the World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, where Ligety would have been going for his fourth consecutive GS gold.
“He was so injured and he was frustrated because he was gutting it out trying to get to World Championships, but he couldn’t feel that power, he couldn’t feel that energy,” Nyman said of Ligety. “And Travis is just super inconsistent. There is a lot of speed and we know that, which is a good thing. I think our main focus is just getting healthy and everything should be fine next year.”
Despite the struggle, there have been positives for the U.S. men. There is a lot of excitement around Nor-Am and Europa Cup skiers Erik Arvidsson, Drew Duffy, Nicholas Krause, River Radamus and Morse. At the World Cup level, David Chodounsky just missed making finals, and Bryce Bennett and Tommy Biesemeyer had strong seasons, even if they aren’t competing in Aspen.
“There were a lot of those positive steps that kept us chin-up and focused,” Rearick said. “We had a bunch of young guys scoring their first World Cup points, having a great run here and there. Those are huge stepping-stones for the young guys to get through to those points.”
Even with this season’s struggles, the general feeling is the U.S. men’s ski team is sitting strong for next season. The biggest question mark is Miller, considered by many to be the greatest American male skier of all time, and whether he’ll be back.
Miller hasn’t competed since the 2015 World Championships in Vail. He’s been tied up in legal affairs with former sponsor Head Skis, which among other things got in the way of him skiing this season.
“It’s completely gone. There are no restrictions at all,” Miller said of the lawsuit with Head. “The problem was if you have a bunch of money and you want to tie something up in litigation, you can, in a certain way, and that’s what happened.”
He’s been semi-retired, and now has four children, including a 1-year-old. This week in Aspen, he described himself as being “skinny fat” right now, and feels there is a “60-40” chance he could return to competitive skiing next winter.
He will turn 40 in October, which he says “is not an advisable age to race World Cup speed, especially after a 20-year World Cup career.” He also said he won’t race unless he’s “the most fit guy out there.”
Nyman and Rearick said the team would welcome him back with open arms, with Nyman calling Miller a “hero” who all the young skiers grew up watching.
“Without a doubt, we want to see Bode skiing,” Rearick said. “It’s good for our team, it’s good for the whole sport in general. People love watching him skiing, they love watching him compete, and he brings an energy to the whole world of skiing, which is a lot of fun.”
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