Betschart’s luck has gone downhill |

Betschart’s luck has gone downhill

Steve Yingling

Wisi Betschart must feel like he’s playing behind Larry Bird and Kevin McHale for the Boston Celtics during the 1980s.

The speed skier from South Lake Tahoe is patiently waiting to show that you don’t have to be named Moe or Kitt to excel on the World Cup circuit.

Already in his fifth year on the U.S. Ski Team, Betschart has yet to compete in a World Cup event outside the United States. With Tommy Moe, A.J. Kitt and Kyle Rasmussen comprising the speed team right now, nothing short of tragedy will promote Betschart from the secondary tier of racing – Nor Am and Europa Cup.

Unfortunately a torn anterior cruciate right knee ligament two years ago slowed the rapidly developing skier. Before the injury, Betschart twice cracked the top 10 in Nor Am downhills.

“Hopefully, I’ll be at that level from two years ago. I want to move up in Europa Cup and maybe get some World Cup starts,” said Betschart in a USSA press release prior to the season.

Betschart’s plight was best summed up during the World Cup circuit’s recent visit to Beaver Creek, Colo. He served as a course forerunner, preparing the downhill and super-G courses for the likes of Moe and Kitt.

Given the poor results by Rasmussen and Kitt thus far, maybe it’s time for the U.S. to look at some of the younger guys. Although he’s somewhat biased, Heavenly Ski Foundation coach Noel Dufty believes Betschart is the U.S.’s third-best super-G racer right now.

“He slips right in there with (Daron Rahlves) and Moe,” Dufty said. “The biggest problem is that Tommy Moe is coming on well right now, Rasmussen is still recovering from a knee injury and I don’t think A.J. Kitt is skiing very well.”

Rasmussen has indicated that he will retire following the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, but what will U.S coach Bill Egan do if Kitt’s results don’t improve? Certainly Betschart and 25-year-olds Casey Puckett and Chad Fleischer are worthy of a shot.

But Betschart supporters shouldn’t give up. There’s one way the 21-year-old can show Egan is making a mistake – perform well in the upcoming Gold Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Individual discipline winners at the Gold Cup are guaranteed spots on the Olympic team.

“If the Gold Cup works out and he can go against them head on head and they’re actually gonna choose a spot there, that’s his only chance,” Dufty said.

Unfortunately for Betschart, like any player confined to the bench or sidelines, it’s difficult to improve when you’re not competing.

“He hasn’t had very much luck right now. Those canceled Nor Am races would have boosted him onto the B team,” Dufty said. “He’s confident again, and he’s working out a lot more in the weight room. Whether he’s worked out enough on bikes and running is (uncertain). Egan is making them fitter than they’ve ever been.”

At 201 pounds, Betschart has surpassed the 196-pound Moss in bulk and has won his share of training runs against America’s top gun.

“You’ve got to be an ox,” Dufty said. “It’s the formula one. You’ve got to be in great shape. Those guys were going 75 mph the other day at Beaver Creek over jumps and making sharp turns.”

Meanwhile, Jonna Mendes, three years Betschart’s junior, is threatening to make the U.S. Olympic women’s team in the super-G. Picabo Street’s delayed comeback plans and a squad full of teen-agers barely able to vote has opened the door for the South Lake Tahoe 18-year-old, who is capitalizing. Mendes, 26th-place showing in a World Cup super-G on Dec. 6 in Lake Louise, Alberta, was tops among Americans.

“The main thing for her is to get two more races in or even one more in before the Gold Cup. She’ll win the Gold Cup (super-G),” Dufty said.

Don’t count out Betschart, either. Sometimes a benchwarmer turns out to be a John Havlicek.

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