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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Travis Ganong was grateful for a second chance at the Xfinity Birds of Prey super-G, and on a sun-splashed Friday the 33-year-old Californian maximized his opportunity.
After committing a critical mid-race mistake Thursday in the first of four speed events that comprise the men’s American stop of the Audi FIS Ski World Cup, Ganong would return Friday with a clean run to earn the bronze medal behind Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde and Swiss skier Marco Odermatt.
“It’s rare on a World Cup track in a race situation to have a clean run,” Ganong said, while watching the later seeded racers fail to knock him off his first-ever World Cup super-G podium. The prior day Ganong finished in a tie for 22nd.
The top three men Friday were separated by less than four-tenths of a second, with Kilde notching the day’s fastest time of 1:10.26. Odermatt, the previous day’s victor, was just .03 seconds behind, followed by Ganong who skied to 1:10.63.
Relaxed on grippy Colorado snow, Ganong said he had been working on a new technique that came via teammate and fellow American Ryan Cochran-Siegle, who did not finish Friday’s race.
“It’s a great place to ski in front of the home crowd,” Ganong said.
Kilde was beaming after his super-G victory became official. His win was the 10th by a racer from Norway at this event, according to organizers.
“It makes me feel just incredible,” said the 29-year-old skier. “After 10 months of waiting to be back on the podium it’s a lot of emotions.”
The overall men’s World Cup winner from two seasons ago, Kilde suffered a severe right knee injury in January, and admitted that with an ACL tear one has to be patient in recovery.
“It just takes a long time. Step by step going through the process, I’ve just been waiting for it to heal,” he said.
Kilde added he received some moral support, sage advice and motivation from his girlfriend, American superstar Mikaela Shiffrin, who is competing this weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta, and finished 26th in Friday’s downhill as her teammate, Breezy Johnson, skied to second behind Italy’s Sofia Goggia.
“She’s incredible. We’re good for each other,” Kilde said of Shiffrin.
While Kilde said his recovery has been filled with “a lot of ups and downs, I always tried to keep a positive mindset.”
Marco Odermatt, who currently leads the overall standings with 330 points, was gracious Friday in accepting his runner-up status, especially because he holds Kilde in high regard.
“He is one of the best skiers, we already know that,” Odermatt said, while adding that two years ago here in Beaver Creek, he edged Kilde by the narrowest of margins. “And now I’m behind him,” Odermatt said.
Fourteen competitors out of the 59-skier field, including River Radamus of Edwards, failed to complete the course. Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud suffered the day’s worst crash, ending up in the netting after failing to complete a turn after the Pumphouse section. While he skied down on his own, it was recommended that Jansrud have his knee and shoulder examined by Vail clinic staff, according to a press pool report.
Complete results from Friday’s super-G are available at fis-ski.com
Masked (and unmasked) men
At times during the second Xfinity Birds of Prey race, it was possible to forget COVID-19 is ongoing: cowbells were clanging, adults were slugging down beers, children were cheering their favorites and the noise level in the race arena reached near pre-pandemic levels.
While the ski teams and their entourages follow strict protocols established by the federations, many of the fans in the stands and those milling about the finish were comfortable being unmasked.
Heath Harmon, Eagle County’s public health director, said the county’s team worked in concert with the event host, the Vail Valley Foundation, to provide guidance on protocols.
Chief of Press Tom Boyd added that COVID-19 protocols were put in place in cooperation with the International Ski Federation (FIS) as well.
Jenny Wiedeke, FIS Communications Director, shared information about how FIS is handling life in the pandemic world. It includes a “red bubble” of about 500 athletes, coaches and techs (similar to how the NBA and other pro sports teams have operated), which allows those in the cohort to “go from site to site safely.”
One positive COVID case related to the event was announced earlier this week and confirmed at the first Team Captains meeting, she added. A second COVID case that was rumored could not be confirmed.
“In terms of other considerations, we are working very closely with upcoming (local organizers) to be sure we have all the necessary information for teams and athletes to safely enter the various countries,” Wiedeke said. “What we learned last season is the pandemic requires a lot of flexibility on everyone’s part and a lot of planning for alternate scenarios.”
Harmon said that “Eagle County doesn’t currently have capacity limitations and we do continue to recommend face coverings when in public indoor environments. That said, VVF is implementing many precautions to help reduce exposures to COVID-19 at the numerous venues that are utilized for this weekend.”
While no firm numbers were available, Boyd estimated spectator numbers at between 3-5,000 on Friday, which was greater than the prior day. He remains “optimistic” for larger crowds over the weekend.
It’s been two years since Beaver Creek hosted this alpine World Cup series and spectators raved about the return to some kind of normalcy.
Boyd said he wouldn’t be surprised if far more people turn out for Saturday’s downhill, noting that the speed absence may have made the fans’ hearts grow fonder.
“You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” he said in explaining some of the pent-up excitement.
Brian Frederick ventured up from Denver with a buddy Friday to watch the super-G.
“Everybody’s ready to get out and see some racing,” Frederick said prior to the event commencing. Like others who weren’t sporting masks in the fresh air, Frederick said he wasn’t worried about contracting the virus during the race.
An unmasked Beat Kotoun, originally from Bern, Switzerland, was ringing a large cowbell and shouting loudly in support of the Swiss team members, including silver medalist Odermatt. Nearby, 11-year-old Wisconsinite Mason Katzfuss was waiting patiently to root on Ryan Cochran-Siegle, his favorite American racer.
Katzfuss and throngs of fans young and old have more spectating in store as downhills are planned on the same venue for Saturday at 11 a.m. and noon on Sunday.
The races are free and open to the public, but face masks are required on all shuttle buses.
Follow Madeleine on Twitter, @Madski99