BEAVER CREEK, Colo. - The Marco Sullivan faithful eventually figured out that it had its "Marco rocks" signs backwards and got them arranged properly for their hero to finish 18th at Friday's Birds of Prey downhill at Beaver Creek.
Fellow Californian and North Lake Tahoe High School alumnus Travis Ganong rocked a wee-bit more, tying for 16th as the Americans popped two into the top 30 on the first day of World Cup racing in Beaver Creek.
"I had one goal and that was to send it, ski as hard as I could and see what happened," Ganong said. "I did exactly that. I pushed the line. I really charged. I wanted to try to do something really big. I made some mistakes, which kind of happens. I'm pumped up and I'm in a great place. It'll get better and better."
Ganong, 24, logged the second-best finish of his young World Cup career. He was 12th in last season's Kitzbuehel, Austria, downhill last winter. This was his best finish at Birds of Prey - he was 33rd last year at Beaver Creek. And Friday certainly was a big improvement on a disappointing downhill outing last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta (39th).
"Last week in Lake Louise was tough, so it's good to be in the points here," Ganong said. "I know I'm competitive. I know that I made a bunch of mistakes and I'm still competitive with mistakes. When I have a mistake-free run, I'll be up there, so I'm happy."
Ganong said that he got bounced around a bit on The Brink, the steep descent at the start of the course, and was roughed up on the Talon Turn. That set up his major mistake at The Pumphouse, which is halfway down the course, near the giant-slalom start.
His good performances in training, Ganong said, helped him. However, he still admitted understandably to having some nerves on race day.
"I try to block that out, but I'm definitely more anxious," he said. "Definitely, the nerves are raised, a little elevated. I wish I did not notice that, but in every sport, every athlete experiences it."
Sullivan continued his revival Friday. After finishing third in the Lake Louise downhill last weekend, he made his green-hatted fans happy cruising into the top 20.
"Obviously, a really tight race today," Sullivan said. "I thought I skied pretty well. I had one bobble in the middle coming around the corner before Screech Owl and that killed my speed for the flats. I was 1.4 seconds back, I think. (Winner Christof) Innerhofer had an amazing run. With the mistake I had, I can't be too disappointed with that."
Sullivan, 32, had been battling back problems, which helped make his 2011-12 a disappointment. His last podium before this season was in Wengen, Switzerland, back in 2009.
The 13-year veteran of the U.S. Ski Team had all of 35 World Cup points in downhill last year. He's eighth with 73 already this season. Welcome back to the world of higher expectations, Marco.
"I was shooting for top 10," he said. "I think I'm only a couple of tenths (of a second) from top 10 with a big mistake. I don't think they were too high."
Ted Ligety hit the worst number in ski racing: 31st place, or one out of the points. That was a frustrating result for the Park City, Utah, native, who is hoping to challenge for the overall World Cup title.
"I skied well through the top, but I made a couple pretty big mistakes," Ligety said. "That was that."
Steven Nyman made a bit of a move, going from 45th bib to 33rd. Andrew Weibrecht made quite the charge. He finished 37th while starting 63rd.
Ryan Cochran-Siegle punched in at 39th. Meanwhile, Aspen's Wiley Maple, 22, finished 50th in only his second World Cup start at this venue.
- Chris Freud is the sports editor at the Vail Daily, the Sun's sister paper in Colorado. He can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.