U.S. ski rookie Maple makes downhill debut
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
WENGEN, Switzerland – Welcome to World Cup downhill racing, Wiley Maple.
The 20-year-old skier from Aspen, made his elite-level debut Saturday in the longest, most classical race of all – the Lauberhorn at Wengen.
Maple, a former national junior champion, got down the historic 2.75-mile course in 2 minutes, 38.57 seconds of leg-burning tucks, jumps and turns.
“It was awesome. It felt good to get that first one in,” said Maple, a happy 42nd-place finisher despite being 7.29 seconds behind winner Klaus Kroell of Austria.
Maple punched his ticket by impressing U.S. Ski team coaches by his offseason work and results on the North American second-tier circuit, including a win last month at Lake Louise, Alberta.
Two days before Christmas, he was told to prepare for ski-loving Switzerland’s signature sports event.
“The crowds here are insane and the visual is pretty beautiful up here. I didn’t know people were that psyched about skiing,” said Maple, Aspen-born into a family of skiers.
Maple’s parents – Mike, a real estate manager, and Julie, an architect – took him on the slopes as a toddler, and 18-year-old sister Alexandra also races. She attends the University of Colorado, where their father helped the Buffaloes win two NCAA ski championships.
The family was awake early Saturday, catching his start eight time zones away around 2 p.m. local in Wengen.
“They said the whole town was up watching and they’re getting phone calls from all over,” Maple reported after a call home.
Being here was quite different, as Maple found once training began last Tuesday.
“It’s definitely gnarlier and longer than it looks on TV,” he acknowledged.
Exactly the “shock value” U.S. head coach Sasha Rearick intended when bringing Maple to a challenging course that has the fastest section on tour.
Maple was clocked at 88 mph on the Hanneggschuss, which comes 2 minutes in when most races are already done.
“Downhill’s the fastest, scariest and the best. I’ve always liked watching Bode [Miller] just because he puts it on the line,” said Maple, whose new teammate placed eighth.
Rearick describes Maple, who spends down time wakeboarding and skateboarding, as “definitely a free spirit.”
“That’s another reason to have him here,” Rearick said. “To realize, ‘Hey, you want to be a professional?’ This is what it requires.”
Maple’s fast-track learning included a “pretty crazy” experience inspecting the course alongside Swiss great Didier Cuche, who placed second Saturday.
Maple was 3 when Cuche, then 19, made his debut in December 1993, at Bormio, Italy. The future three-time World Cup downhill champion placed 57th.
The World Cup could see Maple return soon at Chamonix, France, likely to race in his truer style.
“I take the risky lines, stick my nose in it and make a lot of mistakes,” Maple said. “Looking perfect and being slow – that’s the worst thing I can think of.
“I don’t like looking pretty.”
Said the rookie sporting a Sideshow Bob-like hairdo, buzz-cut for him by fellow racers Ted Ligety and Travis Ganong who revived an old U.S. team ritual.
World Cup initiation is over. Wiley Maple is on his way.
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