McKee's McThoughts: Here comes the big dog

Nothing looms so potently on the World Cup schedule as Kitzbuehel. It rolls around on the calendar like a beach dog on a dead fish. It’s in your door before you realize all that it brings.

It’s a big dog. Kitzbuehel makes and breaks careers. Constructs and destroys legends. Provides more of the memories of ski racing than any of the other historic stops on the World Cup. No where is trepidation and elation so keenly mixed for the athlete. The Hahnenkamm’s highs are so high and the downs so critically low.

Even as the number of “Classic” sites seems to expand the Hahnenkamm continues to set Kitzbuehel above the rest. As the best of the best. … and the worst of the worst. Isn’t that what the attraction is? The red room rate is high enough, but the extremes of the injuries to those who take the helicopter off course is freakin’ off the highend of the scale: Google the injuries of Scott Macartney, Christoph Gruber, Daniel Albrecht, Todd Brooker. Rather flies in the FIS face of racer safety focus doesn’t it?

I played on a softball team with a fabulous pitcher a couple of summers. He was often called for illegal pitches. Just as often our opponents would ask the umpire to lay-off. They wanted to try to hit the best pitch he could throw. Racers live to be the winner at Kitzbuehel. That is what puts Kitzbuehel, the Kitzbuehler Ski Club, the Hahnenkamm and the brat sales above other sites, above the World Cup and, yes, even above the FIS.

Seen the FIS proposal to do away with super combined? The “plan” has 2012 being the last season a Crystal Globe is awarded for combined. The debate appears to be on, “kindled anew,” according to men’s tour race director Gunter Hujara. But unless voted down World Cup combined goes away.

Debate the concept if you wish but remember combined has been an Olympic event since 1988 and was, in fact, the original Olympic alpine event back in 1936.

That’s a long time ago. These days the long weekend at Kitzbuehel is all about the downhill. But combined has been the mainstay event at Kitzbuehel for an even longer time. The Hahnenkamm Trophy originally was won not by the downhill winner, or the slalom winner, but by the combination of the two races, the culmination of the weekend of racing. The first was awarded in 1932, eighty years ago. That was the event the Olympic folks thought was worthy of inclusion in their Winter Games.

By the way, the first U.S. Hahnenkamm winner was in 1951. Anyone want to guess?

As much as combined has – at various points in World Cup history – fallen in or out of favor in the popular wisdom, Kitzbuehel has never wavered. At the Hahnenkamm, combined is rewarded as the complete measure of the skills. When the wisdom said super combined, Kitzbuehel preferred to do it the old fashioned way: One full downhill, one full slalom and stir.

Buddy Werner, an American legend if ever a sport had one, never won the Hahnenkamm combined, but he did win the downhill in 1959.

Personally I don’t see Kitzbuehel holding the Hahnekamm without a combined whether the FIS awards World Cup points or not. I have to think Wengen would probably continue as well. These places treasure their traditions. On the other hand, I don’t see the Olympic committee having any emotion one way or another. That’s something to fully consider before publicizing an event is being removed from the  international calendar.

Prior to 1961 the Hahnenkamm included events for both genders. Ten years before that tradition was released Christian Pravada swept the trophies winning both races and therefore the combined. On the women’s side, American Andrea Mead-Lawrence accomplished the same feat. Sorry, Lindsey Vonn will never have the opportunity to match that one.

She’s having another great season by the way, in the off-case no one has pointed it out. It appears the magic was not in the marriage. A M-L didn’t get the chance to leave World Cup results for LV to chase. At this point it’s unlikely that would have mattered. LV is eight wins behind Vreni Schneider for second all-time, fifteen behind AM M-P for best of all time. At 27 . …  It could happen. Hasn’t in her lifetime, but it could.

By the way, how long is it going to be before somebody at a corporation is going to be smart enough to buy Mikaela Shiffrin’s head gear? Anyone want to take odds it’ll happen before the end of the season? Next season?

Maybe the traditions don’t mean so much anymore. Maybe the danger of high stakes ski racing has been diluted in our minds by years of ever increasing media forcing our awareness of violence in life and in sport. Kitzbuehel’s Streif produces drama that makes it worthy of attention.

Word from the streets of Kitzbuehel is that the track is in good condition this season, smooth and compact. Should provide a good test for the pilots, and they expect no less.

Kitzbuehel dominates the schedule. Millions will find a way to watch the downhill.

Let the dog in, will ya?



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