At its 4-Year Mark, Ski Re-enters the Spotlight Ahead of the Olympics

BEAVER CREEK, Colonel — Almost everywhere, except in the Alps, ski races are often overlooked.

And then, every four years, an Olympic Games approaches, and with the flick of a button, ski racers once again capture the imagination of anyone who catches a glimpse of the high-speed prowess unfolding across Europe and North America on the well-known winter escape. as the “white circus”. In an Olympic season, the prospect of the Games and the glory and riches they can provide tend to hang in the air at every turn and snowfall. Every result is a clue to who’s in shape and who still has work to do and what could happen in early February when the world’s eyes are locked on this rare sport.

The men’s half of this roadshow descended into Colorado’s Rocky Mountains this weekend for a series of races known as the Birds of Prey, featuring the usual collection of speedhounds that many sports scientists consider to be among the best winter sports athletes of all aspects. They are willing to propel themselves down a nearly two-mile ice sheet at 80 miles per hour on a few fiberglass composite rods. During the first three days of the race, they did nothing to dispel this view, with Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde winning two of the first three races and claiming it was the best of the best despite tearing his knee ligament in less than a year. before.

A final landing is planned for Sunday afternoon.

Despite her skill, 2019-20 overall champion Kilde is best known in these regions for being the boyfriend of Mikaela Shiffrin, arguably the world’s top female skier who had a chance to add an armful of medals at the Beijing Olympics. It’s a beloved local who makes his home one town closer to Vail, just a few ridges away. Although Shiffrin is struggling in the downhill race at Lake Louise this weekend, he won his 71st World Cup race in Vermont and his 46th in slalom last weekend and is one of the sport’s biggest stars.

“He’s great,” Kilde said of his girlfriend on Saturday, after she smashed the downhill course to win Austria’s Matthias Mayer two-thirds of a second and read a congratulatory message from Shiffrin. “We’re good for each other.”

Looking for tips for Beijing? Kilde and Shiffrin look set to become the Games’ golden couple. Olympic broadcaster NBC in the United States adores their gold doubles.

It’s like a miracle that these races are happening this weekend. Despite some scattered snowfall last month, late in the Colorado mountains the weather is calm, chilly nights and mornings giving place to bright 50-degree afternoons. Except for a few runs, the mountains are mostly dull shades of green and brown.

Technicians spent weeks blowing man-made snow on the course in a fierce battle to establish a suitable base and gain approval from ski international federation inspectors to advance. It was dark until the last days, and hundreds of workers with picks and shovels worked long days to maintain the narrower-than-normal snow strip for the race.

“There’s not as much terrain as we’re used to,” said Ryan Cochrane-Siegle, America’s fastest skier, who finished sixth in the downhill finish on Saturday, an encouraging result for someone whose previous season had ended with a brutal crash and a broken neck.

While the Beijing Games may be the short-term elephant on the ski hill, climate change is long-term. Ski racing cannot take place without cold weather and snow. Shorter winters are increasingly tightening the start and end of the World Cup season, making summer training on high-altitude glaciers more dangerous than ever.

Playing with the weather has become key strategy this week as top racers race to kick off early in the program before the course begins to deteriorate from a combination of sun, warming temperatures and ski edges.

Alpine skiing at the 2022 Olympics will be held in Yanqing District, which should be very cold, but with little snow and snow, every skier will be man-made. Skiers actually choose this route because artificial snow provides a hard, dense and consistent surface that they love and feel most secure on.

They are less enthusiastic about traveling to a mountain where they have never competed in a host country with an increasingly authoritarian government. Most recently, amid Beijing’s response to allegations of sexual assault against a top Communist Party leader by tennis star Peng Shuai, calls for a boycott of the Games and complaints were made to the International Olympic Committee for its embrace of the Chinese government.

“It’s a big problem and I’m not afraid to say it,” said Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud, 36, veteran and five-time Olympic medalist, after finishing 14th on Thursday. “As athletes, we’re stuck in the middle.”

A day later, Jansrud ran into another problem to deal with when he was hit violently from one of the trail’s wide turns. Jansrud rolled out of bounds at about 60 mph, his skis helicoptered into the net on one side of the slope.

The American men, who have been battling injuries over the past few seasons, are slipping cleanly as now-retired stars like Bode Miller and Ted Ligety try to return to the standard they’ve set on the World Cup tour over the past 15 years. .

Travis Ganong, 33, of California, who tore a large knee ligament a few years ago, recorded the most encouraging result, finishing third in Friday’s Super-G race.

“We needed this,” said Steve Nyman, 39, the team’s former statesman, making a comeback after his own knee injury. “You see a man on the podium, it fires us all.”

The Swiss and Austrians who generally lead this sport generally don’t need a lot of firefights, but they’ve had their fair share in the past few days. Fast-rising Swiss 24-year-old Marco Odermatt won the Super-G on Thursday, took it on Friday the second, and it looks likely to continue his country’s Alpine traditions.

And if this is an Olympic year, then it’s a safe bet that Meyer, one of the smaller skiers on the tour, will find his unique form by skiing in his trademark position like an upside-down U. Meyer was the downhill Olympic. Champion in 2014 and Super-G champion in 2018. Meyer finished second in Thursday’s super G and was sitting in the leader’s seat for half an hour Saturday before Kilde knocked him out.

“I brought my confidence yesterday,” Kilde said after her second consecutive win. “A wonderful feeling.”

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