Betschart, Rhalves adjust to speed events |

Betschart, Rhalves adjust to speed events

by dana jo turvey, tribune correspondent

Forget about the actual ski race: Austria is now stacking the results list on events less crucial, like training day.

Five of the top six times on Thanksgiving’s training results belonged to Austrians. Naturally, the first listing said “Hermann Maier.”

In the first of two days designed to condition racers to speeds on the Birds of Prey course, flat light from the morning’s snowfall grayed the day. Maier said of his run, “The light wasn’t too bad. A few sections were very icy, but the course was set a little more out of the fall line. Not the same as last year It’s a great feeling, though, to be back on downhill skis, especially here [at Beaver Creek] – I’ve done very well here. I like this course very much.”

Following the Hermannator closely down the hill were Italy’s Kristian Ghedina, then fellow Austria’s Hannes Trinkl, Stefan Eberharter, Fritz Strobl and Roland Assinger. The top American name on the training run was Daron Rahlves of Truckee, in 26th.

Considering Thrusday’s test run was the first speed skiing of the World Cup season, Rahlves said, “It’s been a while. I haven’t been on (downhill) skis since October. Since I’ve just switched skis and boots to Atomic and Lange, I’m still trying to get my skis figured out. But finally, a downhill – it felt good. Today was pretty solid, there’s still room to improve on, but I took it pretty conservative today.”

Rahlves agreed with Maier about the course, saying, “With the new snow, I think it felt a little slow, but the course was set a little more back and forth. It’s not as slick as last year, during the World Championships.”

Formerly only a giant-slalom and super-G racer, Rahlves has spent the past few seasons concentrating on speed events. That’s changing this winter.

“The last three years, I haven’t raced much GS, now I’m trying to get it back,” he said. “GS is definitely the toughest event; it needs so much training and because it’s so precise, you really have to be right on.

“I think it’s the toughest event there is, but it’s the foundation for all

racing. All the top super G and downhill guys are also great GS skiers. Now I’m getting back into it instead of just focusing on speed. I see myself as a three-event skier.”

Another change from the past winter is a lack of injuries. Rahlves entered last season soon after dislocating his hip – for the second time. Now he said, “I feel totally great, head to toe. My head’s in the right place. I don’t have any doubts anymore. Last year was the toughest year I’ve ever had, I can easily say. I was thinking about my hip, which obviously was a big concern for me. I trained pretty hard this summer; then in September, I got to surf and ride my dirt bike. I was loving it, but now I’m ready for the season.”

Rahlves’ Tahoe teammate, Wisi Betschart, handled some extra action on the training hill. He said, “I started pretty far back, and some interesting holes had developed. I caught a little too much air coming off one jump. When I landed it was really slick and I basically had to throw ’em sideways until I could grab hold again. By then I had missed a gate. But, you know, it’s still training and it went pretty well.”

Like Rahlves, Betschart recently has switched skis to the Atomic brand. “We’re still getting our skis dialed in, so it’s just good to be on a downhill course again. There’s a big difference between the training we do in summer and going 50-plus mph in race conditions. Still, our coaches had us all go at it moderately today; we still have one more day of training.”

Training or racing, the big buzz is still about the strength of Maier. So far, he has won both races he has entered this season. On training day, he was a healthy .21 seconds ahead of nearest rival Ghedina. Teammate Stefan Eberharter speaks for the rest of the pack, when he says, “Always, so far it is Hermann. But it can be me winning, too. I know that.”

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