Sullivan makes surprise Olympic downhill bid
SESTRIERE BORGATA, Italy – It was such a last-minute surprise for Marco Sullivan to find himself at the Winter Olympics that he has no friends or family in town whatsoever.
Sullivan finished 29th in the first downhill training run Thursday, won by his teammate and neighbor, Daron Rahlves.
When the U.S. Olympic Ski Team was named Jan. 25, the 25-year old from Truckee was on the list. But there were some provisions. Because Sullivan was so close in World Cup results to U.S. teammates Steve Nyman and Scott Macartney, the three now have to race each other for the final two spots behind Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves on the Olympic speed skiing team.
Thursday’s run was purely for practice, and the ski-off between the three Americans begins Friday before the Olympic opening ceremony in Torino. It will wrap up Saturday before Sunday’s race.
“I had fun. I wasn’t too fast, just figuring out the hill,” Sullivan said after his run Thursday. “It definitely surprised me a little bit. Every little roller we were catching air and just getting that light feeling that can throw you off your line. There’s a lot more to think about than I expected. You can’t relax at all. There’s no holding back for me after this one.”
Sullivan’s World Cup season began slowly after he sidelined himself the previous two seasons with consecutive knee injuries. In 2006, however, Sullivan started strong, finishing 16th in the World Cup downhill in Wengen, Switzerland, followed by a 14th-place finish in Kitzbuehel, Austria, and a 19th in Garmisch.
But Macartney, from Redmond, Wash., has had similar downhill success this season and incredible success in super-G with a second-place finish in Garmisch and a seventh place in Gardena, Italy.
Nyman, who finished 14th in training Friday, is eager to compete in the Olympic event Sunday, which happens to be his birthday. His list of accomplishments this season include a fourth-place finish in the Garmisch downhill.
“I think it’s really fair,” Nyman said of the ski-off. “We’ve all proven ourselves throughout the season, and it’s cool that we’re able to do this.”
Sullivan, while coming into the ski-off as the underdog, was the top American in the 2002 Olympic downhill race in Salt Lake City, when he finished in ninth place.
“I’m just happy to be here and happy to ski,” Sullivan said. “I proved in the last Olympics that I can come through in big events. I’m feeling good. I know nobody’s really counting on me as a favorite, but I think I’ll be in there.”
Having what it takes
When asked who he thought was the favorite to win Sunday’s race, Sullivan didn’t hesitate to plug his friend and fellow Truckee resident.
“Look at the leader board,” Sullivan said. “Daron is the only guy who’s won on this hill in the last five years. He’s obviously confident. To win by over a second is pretty impressive, no matter who you ask. When you’re that confident, there’s no reason to slow down.
“In the first training run, to put the smack down like that, that scares everybody.”
Sullivan said he won’t be terribly disappointed if he doesn’t make the cut today or Saturday. He’s not sure if actually doing the competition is what officially designates him as an Olympian.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I got the coat. And I’m not giving it back.”
While none of his friends or family were able to book flights at the last minute, Sullivan said they are watching and hoping.
“If I do get the spot, I’m an Olympian. If I don’t get the spot, I’m here to hang out,” he said. “Iím just here to ski my fastest. I’m stoked to be here. Obviously, I wish my family was here watching, but I know they’ll be behind me.”
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