Beaver Creek, CO, Nov. 29, 2000--Still carrying momentum from last week'sfifth place downhill finish in Lake Louise, Chad Fleischer (Vail, CO) was the topAmerican skier Wednesday in the first training run for this weekend's Ernst &Young Birds of Prey World Cup.
Fleischer finished eighth of 80 starters with a time of 1:43.50 on the renownedBirds of Prey downhill course. Also finishing in the top-20 was Daron Rahlves (Sugar Bowl, CA), recording a time of 1:44.18 to finish 16th.
After missing most of last season with a shoulder injury, Fleischer is back on thetour with a vengeance after skiing well in Lake Louise and is looking forward tocompeting in front of his hometown crowd this weekend.
"I got in touch with some really good feelings up in Canada (Lake Louise)," saidFleischer, who finished last season's Birds of Prey downhill in 21st. "Because ofthe time I spent away from the snow, I'm skiing with more feeling. Man, thewhole course was coming at me in slow motion and you gotta have that to beable to perform. It's way fun, I'm in control."
Rahlves, who ended last season with a pair of World Cup downhill wins inKvitfjell, Norway, was the top American finisher in last year's opening training runon Birds of Prey. He was 29th, but ended up skiing off course in the race.However, he rebounded to be the top American finisher in the ensuing super Gon Birds of Prey, taking 14th.
In no surprise to anyone, Austrian Hermann Maier won today's training run with atime of 1:42.35. Switzerland's Didier Cuche was second in 1:42.98 and Fritz Strobl, Maier's teammate, was third in 1:43.04.
Maier has basically owned the Birds of Prey course since its opening in December of '97. Ten World Championship or WorldCup races have been contested on the hill and Maier has won no less than six of them (he was not entered in two of the races).Last season, Maier claimed victories in the giant slalom, downhill and super G races held at Beaver Creek.
Only two skiers can claim that they have beaten the "Herminator" on Birds of Prey - Italy's Kristian Ghedina and Maier'steammate Andreas Schifferer. Norwegian Lasse Kjus tied Maier in the '99 World Championship super G. In today's run, Kjuswas sixth (1:43.33) and Schifferer was seventh (1:43.39). Ghedina is not competing at Beaver Creek.
The Birds of Prey course, despite only being around for three seasons, has quickly become one of the premier downhills in theworld. It is a very technical course while at the same time throwing racers down the hill with speeds in excess of 80 mph.Competitors must contend with extreme steeps and air off knolls. Today's course, according to Fleischer, had huge air sectionsthat led you right into the next turn.
"I haven't been on this hill at all since last season," said Fleischer. "It's huge air. It's like 50 yards on two jumps, especially theGolden Eagle (jump). "It's the highest I've seen it. You're 10, maybe 12, feet up for 50 yards. It's pretty sick."
The men have two more days of downhill training starting at 12:15 p.m. MST Thursday and Friday. The downhill races will beginat 12:15 p.m. MST on Saturday and Sunday.