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Alpine Skiing's Big Races (2/20/13)

 
The finish of the Schladming, Austria, downhill at world
championships with the stands filling up
 
View from the start of the downhill course in Schladming
 
View from the Kitzbuehel downhill taken during inspection of the
course
 
Group shot of the U.S. speed team during training in Hinterreit,
Austria

The world championships in ski racing is a biennial event and this year it was hosted in the epicenter of ski racing culture that is the country of Austria.  The Austrians are to ski racing like pasta is to Italy and they may not have been the first to do it, but they have perfected its practice and now ski racing is a part of the country’s identity.  The Austrians have won the overall nations cup for last 23 consecutive years and skiing is hands down the country’s most popular sport.  What that means to us is that when we race in Austria we are treated to big crowds, knowledgeable race fans and many of the toughest venues.  This year was special because in back-to-back weeks we raced in Kitzbuehel, the most revered downhill on the tour, straight into the world championship race in Schladming, another grueling downhill track.  We have just wrapped up those races and I would like to give you a little sense of how it went, how we are feeling now and where we are going from here. 

It seems like months ago now, but on January 26, the famous Hahnennkamm race in Kitzbuehel was run under sunny skies and 42,000 paying spectators.  After three training runs, the course was bumpy and icy but perfect for a race.  I had the luck to draw No. 1 out of the gate and my nerves were definitely on edge.  A key to this race is being able to maintain a calm focus while attacking with all of your strength. Being able to negotiate all of the jumps, steeps and off-kilter corners of the course requires maximal exertion.  I had my go at it but unfortunately it was far from flawless; I finished in 23rd place, 2.2 seconds behind the winner Dominik Paris of Italy.  href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-vkMN2COZQ">Watch my run here.  The rest of crew also faced troubles and our best finisher was only 18th place.  Not a great day but we all still had our health; we turned our attention to the upcoming world championships. 

In all sports it is a huge task to be ready for a certain event on a specific day and be assured that all of your team will be able to achieve their peak performance.  After Kitz we had eight days to kill before training started in Schladming.  We balanced the time with rest days and light training, trying to stay fresh but sharp. These breaks are sometimes tougher than the racing.  Being halfway across the world from home is fun when you have clear purpose, but killing time in remote hotels is not ideal.  Needless to say we were all excited to arrive in Schladming and get underway.

The downhill track at the championships had been spiced up with lots of manmade terrain and tricky turns and it culminated at the bottom of the mountain in a stadium that had capacity for 50,000 fans.  Austria at its finest.  When race day came, the American team started four racers, the max. allowed for each country.  Based on training runs and the way we were feeling everyone thought that we had a shot at landing in top 10 and if things went really well maybe even grabbing a medal.  At the end of the day we finished with nobody in the top 20.  Steven Nyman and Andrew Weibrecht did not find the speed they needed while Travis Ganong and myself both failed to finish the course.  Watch my run here.

After the race, I had a pretty deflated feeling. A lot of preparation and no reward is never fun.  As a team we failed to get the job done that day.  It was tough conditions and we did not step up to meet the challenge.  The next time we need to be better and by the next time I mean the next time we come to an event with a big fancy title.  When we arrive in Sochi in one year, I will remember the feeling that I had when I was bouncing off the safety netting on the side of the course in Schladming.  This is the life of an athlete in any sport: get beat, get mad, work harder, try again.  We will keep trying and keep working and keep giving our best.  We have three more World Cup races to finish out this season and I will report back soon.

Thanks for reading!