Technically, there has been no great change in the way Travis Ganong has been racing the past year. He’s skiing pretty much the same way he has since he joined the world cup skiing circuit four years ago.
The results, however, are significantly better.
Over the past year, Ganong had a strong performance at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, finishing fifth in the downhill. He came back 12 days later to finish third in the downhill at Kvitfjell, Norway — his first podium finish in the world cup and just .12 of a second behind the co-winners. He finished 2014 ninth in the world cup downhill season standings, a jump from 18th the year before.
Then in late December came his breakthrough. Ganong won the downhill in Santa Caterina, Italy, his first world cup win. He did it by beating Olympic champion Matthias Mayer of Austria, who finished .09 behind him.
“It was amazing to win my first world cup race,” Ganong said, via email from Austria. “I have been racing the world cup for four years now and learning a lot over that time. Now I am at a place where the experience racing world cup downhill is helping me ski faster than ever.
|Travis Ganong takes first place during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup men's downhill on Dec. 28, 2014 in Santa Caterina Valfurva, Italy.|
“There are a lot of variables in ski racing, where the top 10 can only be separated by a half a second, all after skiing a track that is a few miles long, so skiers have to have an almost perfect run to win. I had one of those runs in Santa Caterina.”
Ganong, 26, always has been fast. Since flying down the slopes in Squaw Valley, California, near Lake Tahoe, as a boy, Ganong has worked hard toward his goal of being one of the best downhill racers in the world. But it’s only been in the last couple of years that he’s really made a charge, and he says that’s mainly because of experience and conditioning.
He started working with a new trainer about 2.5 years ago, and his increased strength and stamina have helped significantly.
“(He) completely changed the way I work out in the offseason,” Ganong said. “After the first summer I made physical gains for sure, but I have really noticed a change this winter after the second hard summer of training. ...
“I am stronger, healthier and more balanced than ever on my skis, which allows me to ski more days in a row without getting tired, and to push hard all the way to the bottom of the races.”
Ganong is trusting in what he knows and attacking courses. Over the past two years he’s put up consistently better finishes in downhill. From just before the Sochi Games until this month, he had seven consecutive top-10 finishes in downhill.
The success he’s having has enabled the three-time U.S. champion (twice in super-G, once in downhill) to ski with more confidence.
“I still have a lot more work to do, but the consistency is starting to be there on a daily basis, which is nice,” he said. “I would really like to progress to the point where I can be consistent enough to be a contender for the overall world cup (downhill) title, a title that no American has ever won.”
After winning at Santa Caterina, Ganong told a reporter he wanted to keep winning.
“My New Year’s resolution is to do this more often,” he said.
In February, Ganong will get a chance to win big on American snow, when the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships will be held at Vail/Beaver Creek in Colorado, the first time the United States has hosted the event since 1999.
Ganong said recently that he’s hoping to peak for the downhill there.
Until then, he’s just going to continue to work hard and ski with confidence.
“For me everything has just come together by trusting in my program and hard work,” he said. “I think the best is yet to come.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.