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Speed specialists ready for Lake Louise downhill, super G

Speed specialists ready for Lake Louise downhill, super GThe first downhill and super G of the World Cup season are scheduled to commence this weekend, Nov. 26-27, in Lake Louise, Canada. The course will start lower on the mountain than it has in recent years, according to U.S. Ski Team men’s head coach Phil McNichol, who was on the mountain Tuesday. ‘It’s warm up there’ said McNichol. ‘There’s an inversion, so it’s cold below but it’s jacket-unzipped-gloves-off warm on the top.’

Last year, Bode Miller won both the downhill and super G here. The previous four downhill wins had all been Austrian: Hannes Trinkl (1999), Stephan Eberharter (2000 and 2002) and Michael Walchhofer (2003).

Austrians had won the last four super G races as well: Maier (1999, 2000 and 2003) and Eberharter (2002). This year they will be without Mario Scheiber, one of their promising super G upstarts. Scheiber blew his knee out on Nov. 12.

This year, the Austrian team comes into the race as heavy favorites. They have won four of the last five downhills here, and have probably gotten better speed-event training in the last few weeks in Canada than their American rivals got in Colorado, where snowfall prevented the team from conducting their much-valued annual downhill training camp at Beaver Creek.

Furthermore, in last year’s downhill standings, seven of the top 10 skiers were Austrians. The exceptions were Bode Miller (second) and Daron Rahlves (fourth) of the United States, and Marco Buechel of Liechtenstein (tenth).

In super G, Austrians took seven of the top 10 spots in last year’s rankings. The exceptions, again, were Miller (first) and Rahlves (third), along with Didier Defago of Switzerland (fourth) and Buechel (eighth).

The Americans will start eight men in the downhill on Saturday: Miller, Rahlves, Marco Sullivan, Scott Macartney, Justin Johnson, Christopher Beckmann and 2002 Sprint/Ski Racing Junior of the Year Steve Nyman. The last start position will go to either Erik Fisher or Kevin Francis, depending on which one performs better in whichever training run the team uses for qualification ‘more than likely the second training day’ said McNichol.

In the super G, the American starting lineup will be Miller (defending titlist), Rahlves, Johnson and Macartney, plus one of five guys in competition for the last spot, also to be decided in the training run: Nyman, Beckmann, Francis, Fisher or Sullivan.

Along with Val d’Isere, the Lake Louise downhill favors gliders. That’s one reason why Antoine Deneriaz of France has done well here (he was second here last year, and third in 2004). Deneriaz is back this season after blowing out his knee at Chamonix last year.

Keep an eye on the Canadian skiers as they race at home for the only World Cup this year. Eric Guay was second behind Walchhofer in 2003, and Francois Bourque had a standout race at the Soelden opener, finishing fifth.

Lake Louise had originally planned to add a giant slalom to the program this season, but spiked that plan in the spring because of a funding gap.

Both races are set to begin at 12:30 Mountain time. Following Sunday’s race, the teams will depart for Denver on their way to Beaver Creek for four World Cup races there.

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