It’s an exciting time for ski racing. Much is unknown and the early season races happening now – and soon happening Dec. 6-8 at the 2019 Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS Ski World Cup in Beaver Creek – will help set expectations for the U.S. Ski Team as well as the international field.
It’s a year where racers will have room to grow – two of the greatest skiers in history retired during the offseason: speed specialist Aksel Lund SVINDAL (NOR) and Marcel HIRSCHER (AUT) are no longer on the circuit. It leaves the stage open for a new generation of skiers to step into the limelight:
- GIANT SLALOM: Tommy FORD (USA) took 4th and Ted LIGETY (USA) 5th in Soelden in GS, the first race of the 2020 Audi FIS Ski World Cup season. This bodes well for the U.S. men’s chances on Sunday. LIGETY is a legend on the Birds of Prey GS, with 5 World Cup wins and 1 Championship win, his most recent in the 2014 Birds of Prey World Cup GS. LIGETY, FORD, and the other U.S. Men will have to top the heirs apparent to reclaim GS dominance at Birds of Prey:
- tech specialist Henrik KRISTOFFERSEN (NOR), who took second behind Hirscher in the 2017 Birds of Prey GS
- Stefan LUITZ (GER) who took third in 2017 GS and won the 2018 GS here
- and last year’s second-overall skier Alexis PINTURAULT (FRA) who many expect to claim this year’s overall title.
- DOWNHILL: Birds of Prey famously tests the complete skill set of a racer, and only a few have shown consistent dominance here. Most recently, Aksel Lund SVINDAL (NOR) bucked this trend and won four downhills, a Super G, and a Super Combined during his career. SVINDAL, however, is now retired.
- Beat FEUZ (SUI) could be next in line. He took first place at Birds of Prey in 2018 and went on to win the overall downhill World Cup title.
- Thomas DRESSEN (GER) was a favorite to repeat a podium appearance in 2018 until a crash at Birds of Prey ended his season. He comes back in 2019 as a favorite to podium.
- Dominik PARIS (ITA) appears to be in his prime. He took second in the overall downhill standings last season and first in overall Super G. He has come close at the Birds of Prey downhill – notching three top-5 downhill finishes and a third in super G – but the Italian has not yet made a downhill podium at Birds of Prey. It might finally be his time to etch his name into Birds of Prey lore and take home the coveted Birds of Prey framed image, awarded to all podium finishers.
SUPER G: Some say Super G is the true test of a skier’s ability with its combination of both speed and turns. With so many good skiers on today’s World Cup circuit, this means no other race at Birds of Prey is more up for grabs in 2019. Past champions in the running include 2017 winner Vincent KRIECHMAYR (AUT), and 2018 winner Max FRANZ (AUT). Favorites for the win also include Mauro CAVIEZEL (SUI), Kjetil JANSRUD (NOR), Hannes REICHELT (AUT) and, of course, 2019 overall Super G World Cup Champion Dominik PARIS (ITA).
- U.S. SURGE: U.S. Ski Team Alumni like Daron RAHLVES, Mike BROWN, Kristina KOZNICK and Marco SULLIVAN are expected to be on hand to encourage and inspire the current generation of racers.
- Look for 27-year-old Bryce BENNETT (USA) to take his 6’7” frame into a top position in Downhill, where he has notched nine top-10 finishes in his career but never a podium.
- Things are trending up for Ryan COCHRAN-SIEGLE (USA). At Birds of Prey in 2018 he notched 32nd (DH), 17th (SG), and 22nd (GS) before a string of solid top-30 results to end the year. He started the 2020 season strong with an 11th place at Soelden’s GS this October.
- Speed seeker Travis GANONG (USA) has perhaps the best chance at a podium for the U.S. Ski Team in the Birds of Prey speed events. GANONG has eight top-5 finishes, and while many of those came in the 2014-15 season, GANONG has shown moments of resurgent brilliance, taking first in Garmisch’s Downhill in January, 2017, and a fifth place in Kvitfjell’s Super G in March of 2019.
- Time will tell if Steven NYMAN (USA) will return to top form after a pair of knee injuries, including a torn ACL which forced him to miss the 2018 Olympics. He finished a strong 16th overall in the Downhill rankings in 2019, and his experience may shine when he comes ‘home’ to Birds of Prey, where he took 3rd in DH in 2014 and 2016. He has 24 top-20 World Cup finishes in his career, five of which have come in Beaver Creek.
- HOMETOWN CREW: Local favorites and SSCV alumni River RADAMUS (USA) and Kyle NEGOMIR (USA) are primed to race on their home turf. Locals will be rooting for RADAMUS to make the cut for the second run on Sunday’s GS and perform well for the home crowd in both Super G and GS, while the 21-year-old NEGOMIR is a candidate to possibly race in all three events.
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