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TORINO: Alpine: Austrian Kroell wins 2nd training; Nyman earns spot

TORINO: Alpine: Austrian Kroell wins 2nd training; Nyman earns spotSESTRIERE, Italy – Under bright skies and a fast track, Austrian Klaus Kroell led the second day of men’s downhill training, posting a time of 1 minute, 49.75 seconds. His teammate Fritz Strobl came in second with a time of 1.50.11, leaving Swiss veteran Bruno Kernen .02 seconds in arrears in third.

The second training run was highlighted by races within races and various forms of mind games. In one race within a race, Kroell got the upper hand on his countryman, Andreas Buder, who placed ninth, in the battle to claim the fourth Austrian starting spot for Sunday’s Olympic downhill race. With a fourth and a first in the two training runs, Kroell will be Austria’s fourth representative on the downhill team. ‘I’m very satisfied. We have eight people who can medal, so it’s very competitive. I am very happy I am the fourth man and I hope I can medal on Sunday,” Kroell said.

In the other qualifying drama, involving the third spot on the U.S. downhill squad, Steve Nyman nipped Marco Sullivan and Scott Macartney to earn an Olympic starting position. The fourth and final spot will be determined in a showdown between Macartney and Sullivan in tomorrow’s final training run.

Winner of the first training run, Daron Rahlves was a notable no-show for the second run, opting to rest and let the opposition digest his 1.21-second winning margin. In his absence, Bode Miller led the American squad in seventh place, but clearly was on cruise control in sections of the course, choosing to feel out the line and not tuck aggressively. A look at the split times, however, revealed that Miller’s skis were running well, as he posted the second- and first-fastest interval times on the flatter section of the course.

Nyman’s run was not perfect in his own estimation, but was good enough for 11th position. More importantly, he finished ahead of Sullivan and Macartney, who followed Nyman in 12th and 13th positions. Only .27 seconds separated the three Americans. Reflecting on his run, Nyman said, ‘It’s a great relief to get that spot. Tomorrow I can play games and find speed and not worry about racing and beating other people.’

Despite the satisfaction of winning a spot in the race, Nyman is well aware that there is still room for improvement. ‘I can be much faster. Every little mistake I’m going, ‘Oh no,’ It really budged me but everyone made mistakes. I was clean with my run in some sections and skied very, very well, but there are some sections that I really need to pin it down tomorrow. It’s such a relief to be able to feel that out tomorrow without any pressure.’

The U.S. time trails
Sullivan was disappointed to be so close and yet so far from the qualifying spot, but remained upbeat about his prospects. ‘I fell a little bit short today, but I’m feeling good about tomorrow. It was a solid run, a few mistakes in the middle. I didn’t feel like I was going 100 percent, more like 97 percent, but I’ll bring out that extra 3 percent tomorrow and hopefully be a little faster. But I’m confident. With Scott skiing well, it’s going to be a close race. We’ll both be giving it our all, for sure.

“For whoever gets the spot, it will be exciting. I’ve got the line pretty much dialed in, tomorrow I’ll need better execution — put the pedal down a little closer to the floor.’

Macartney was well aware of where he lost time to his rival. He went off the first big jump near the top of the course on too straight a line and was launched. He landed cleanly but was off-target and had to make a major correction to get back on line. ‘I hooked up going over this jump and flew like 35 meters when others are going five meters or so,” he said. “I was wondering when I was going to come down. It cost me a lot, and since we were qualifying today, it’s a bit of a disappointment. But it’s a better system to have two training runs to qualify, rather than one, because something like that can happen and at least I get another chance tomorrow. It was a solid good run, so I’m not looking to change too many things. I’ll just have to have a cleaner run.’

Mind games with Daron
Rahlves was listed on the start order with bib No. 13, but by the time the training run was under way, most were aware that Rahlves was back in his RV watching the run on TV. Marc Habermann, of the U.S. Ski Team media department, explained, ‘He decided yesterday evening not to run. Apparently he’s confident enough, he knows the course, so he decided to rest.’

Habermann chuckled and then added, ‘Oh yes, he’s playing games with his competition. He crushed the field yesterday and then didn’t show up today.’

One of the contenders for a medal, Marco Buechel from Liechtenstein, who was sixth on his run, joked about Rahlves’ absence, ‘This guy is pissing ice cubes; he’s that cool. I hope it works out for him, but second place is good too. I told him a month ago, I’ll give him a race for the gold medal.’

Even Hermann Maier had a take on the Rahlves no-show. ‘Maybe he’s skipping it (the downhill race) to rest for the combined’ said Maier with a hearty laugh.

The racer not racing
Buder is the odd man out for Austria. He lost the qualifying battle for the fourth Austrian spot to Kroell. Any other country would be clamoring to have him on the squad, but for Austria, a third and eighth in the last two World Cup downhills is not good enough to guarantee a spot. Buder was stoic in dealing with his fate. ‘Two weeks ago I wasn’t qualified (to even try out) for the Olympics, but after races from Kitzbuehel (eighth) and Garmisch (third) I was here.’

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