Men's Super-G: Beaver Creek, Colorado
It's been a race between Norway's Lasse Kjus and Austria's Hermann Maier all season. The two have been battling for the overall lead, for World Cup wins, for headlines.
In Tuesday's men's super-G at the World Alpine Ski Championships, perhaps it was appropriate that two of the world's best speed skiers tied. Yes, tied, in a race that took 52 speed demons down the sphincter-puckering steeps of Beaver Creek's Birds of Prey course, in a race so competitive that the top-9 finishers were within .85 of a second.
For the first time in World Championships history, two racers shared the first-place gold medal. Maier and Kjus arm-in-arm on the podium, with Austrian Hans Knauss just .01 seconds back from making it a menage-a-trois. Now that'd be fun to watch.
Maier, starting eighth, ripped down the same course he won on when the Birds of Prey was inaugurated in December, 1997, edging teammate Stefan Eberharter for what appeared to be a race-winning time at 1:14.53.
Knauss ripped down the course next, but Maier's time stood by just .01. Other rivals were demonized by the tough race conditions, but Kjus skied aggressively. On two occasions nearly losing it, he crossed the line and his time popped up No. 1 on the screen.
"When I saw the No. 1 after Lasse's run, I was upset. I didn't see the time," Maier said, kicking the snow in disappointment and letting out a scream that would scare even Arnold Schwarzenegger. "I was disappointed I didn't win."
Kjus and Maier shared the World Championships first double podium, and Kjus had no problem with it.
"It was a great race. Hermann Maier is probably the greatest skier in the world right now, so to share the podium with him is an honor," Kjus said.
American Chad Fleischer's been talking the talk for a long time. Finally, Vail's resident World Cup skier finally walked the walk. With the world watching, Fleischer busted third out of the start house and dusted most of the field, finishing sixth, less than three-hundredths of a second off the winner's podium.
While he didn't win, it was his first top-10 result in international ski racing. He knows he's closecloser than he's ever been.
"It just feels so great to have a race like this. My strength is in the downhill, so I'm really looking forward to Saturday's race," said an ebullient Fleischer at Tuesday's finish line. "There was one or two turns that I could have skied cleaner. To lose third by such a close margin eats you up, but I'm stoked."
A six-year veteran of the US Ski Team, the 27-year-old, 215-pound, 6-foot-3 Fleischer could very well be the next Tommy Moe or Picabo Street. He hopes his chances will come in Saturday's downhill on the same Birds of Prey course.
American Bode Miller said the course was fast and bumpy, "the top part of the course was all off-camber. If you weren't in the line, you got shot out."
Miller, a giant slalom specialist, finished 26th at 2.59 seconds back. Other racers would be happy with that. Goderdzi Dasvani of Georgia finished last, nearly 12 seconds off the winning pace. The final five spots were filled by such skiing powerhouse teams including Belgium, Ireland, Argentina and South Africa.
How tough is the Birds of Prey course? When it was inaugurated to rave reviews in December 1997, only 35 racers managed to finish the race, while 27 did not finish and 4 disqualified. The World Championships field of 52 performed much better, with only six racers not finishing, including American Casey Puckett, who lost his ski high on the course, and two did not start.
Over at Vail, the women prepared for the downhill, but France's Regine Cavagnoud was injured during the training run. The women's super-G takes place tomorrow at 12:30 local time at Vail.
Andrew Hood, Mountain Zone Correspondent
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