Betschart just misses start at Alpine Worlds |

Betschart just misses start at Alpine Worlds

For a nonrace day at the World Alpine Ski Championships, there was a lot of action Thursday at Beaver Creek, as more than 70 men vied for last minute spots in the upcoming downhill.

The second of three training runs on “Birds of Prey” had many sensational races within the race, since most national teams would only be decided once training times were posted. With a rumor of a pending snowstorm, the final training run on Friday has high odds of being scrubbed altogether.

For South Lake Tahoe speed racer Wisi Betschart this downhill training run carried more importance than usual. With three of four spots doled out to Chad Fleischer, Daron Rahlves and Jakub Fiala, Betschart would need a strong win over Casey Puckett to land the last start position on Team USA.

It was an exceptionally large field of racers on a day of exceptional weather, as men from 24 nations battled a course boasting seven spine-tingling jumps over a distance of 2,484 feet. Puckett, with several World Cup races under his skis, carried bib 45, with Wisi following soon after in the 51st spot.

Just two racers prior to Puckett’s turn, Ivica Kostelic of Croatia was injured in an early tumble. The downhill course was on hold for 15 long minutes as the Croatian racer was loaded into a patrol sled. After a nerve-wracking delay, Puckett left the start house and laid out the run of his life, screaming into a top-notch fifth place.

“I didn’t want to know how Casey had done. I was trying to ignore hearing the results. But then this guy came up to me and asked who this American was that had just placed fifth. I didn’t want to know that. I was thinking there’s no way I can beat Casey in downhill on a good day – and he’d just had a great day. So much for the qualifier.”

The Tahoe racer put in a less-than-perfect run, placing in the back half of the pack at a disappointing 44th. After days of training and dry

land exercise, Betschart lost his chance to run in his first big event. In six seasons on the U.S. Ski Team, he has held his own on both the Nor-Am and Europa Cup circuits, placing a solid fourth at the most recent downhill at San Pellegrino, Italy.

Asked if he was devastated at losing his chance to race, he replied, “You get used to it. There are always guys winning, but there’s only one winner, so you kind of have to accept it. But I admit I’m glad Casey got fifth place today; I’d have hated for him to beat me out of my start position by something like two hundredths of a second. He did it by having a really good run.”

With a more open schedule, Betschart may have some time to finally visit with his father, Alois, who drove out for the week. Chances are the younger Betschart will still go to Friday’s training run and wait to see if he continues onto other World Cup races.

“I hope this doesn’t mean that I don’t get those starts. I don’t know if it depended on what I did here at Vail. I won’t know about that for a couple days. And I bet my coaches will want me to do the training run tomorrow, and I know that it’s really good training, but I’d love a day off,” he said. “It’s been such a weird season. There’re been so many races canceled from no snow. Like just after the San Pellegrino race, we were all supposed to head to another Europa Cup in France, but they had no snow. Immediately, this other resort in Switzerland grabbed the opening and so we had to drive something like 10 hours to be there in time for a training day.

“But when we finally got there, we couldn’t believe it. After all this driving, they only had about four inches of snow. Total. At that point we just gave up. The rest of the team headed to the airport to fly home, but they dropped me off to see my brother, Chris, who lives nearby. So at least I got to see him for a few hours. I finally get to go home to Tahoe on Sunday and I’ll probably have about a week there.”

When back at the South Shore, Betschart says he looks forward to a few days of snowboarding.

“I’ve only gone about one to two times for the past couple years, but I picked it up pretty fast. This fall I bought all my own snowboard gear at the Heavenly swap, so I’m ready to go. Hopefully, there will be a little powder while I’m home,” Betschart said.

While Betschart shrugged off his disappointment, Team Austria scored their usual top places on the Beaver Creek training run. In a repeat of the strange results from Tuesday’s super-G (two racers tied for first, next racer only one one-hundredth off), teammates Stefan Eberharter and Hans Knauss shared the top time of 1:40.12, followed by Italian Kristian Ghedina with 1:40.13.

On the women’s Vail International course, a second day of downhill training produced faster results for local favorite Jonna Mendes. After 41st place on Tuesday, she bumped her time up to a 25th-place finish. Friday will host the women’s combined event (downhill and two slalom runs) and Saturday brings the men’s downhill.

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