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Oops, he did it again: Kilde first back-to-back Birds of Prey winner in 11 years

December 4, 2021, 5:28 pm
Another boisterous crowd on a sunny Saturday for downhill at the Xfinity Birds of Prey races in Beaver Creek (Madeleine Osberger).

Another Beaver Creek race, another big win for Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway, and in doing so Saturday at the XFinity Birds of Prey downhill the Norwegian skier became the first back-to-back race victor here in 11 years. In December 2009, Carlo Janka of Switzerland won the Birds of Prey downhill, giant slalom and the super combined.

Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (Osberger).

“I brought the confidence from yesterday,” said Kilde, 29, to a backdrop of screams and cowbells from the boisterous crowd after he upended the podium order with his winning time of 1:39.63. The men’s overall winner of the FIS World Cup title two seasons ago, Kilde was felled in January by a knee injury but has found his stride during the nascent 2021-22 season, taking the second Beaver Creek super-G and the first of the weekend’s two downhills. 

Matthias Mayer of Austria, winner of the season’s first downhill in Lake Louise, Canada, went silver and Swiss skier Beat Feuz was third.

It didn’t hurt that Kilde had some inside information on the optimal line gleaned from his girlfriend Mikaela Shiffrin, who lives in the Vail Valley and knows this venue as well as anyone, having won a world championship slalom race on the course in 2015. Shiffrin is competing this weekend in speed events in Lake Louise; on Saturday she finished 38th in the Canadian downhill.

“We are together as a couple. We share everything. And I love it,” Kilde said.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle, 29, was the top American, finishing sixth. 

“It’s more about the skiing than the results right now,” Cochran-Siegle said. “It’s about me figuring out how to ski on race day.”

Cochran-Siegle’s teammate Steven Nyman, wearing bib 36, landed in a tie for 18th. Bryce Bennett, who said he is seeing slow but steady progress so far this year, finished in 22nd. Tahoe-area skier Travis Ganong, third in Friday’s super-G, was 24th in the downhill.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle (Osberger).

Later starters fared well on the racecourse that was built in 1997 for the 1999 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships and designed by Olympic gold medalist Bernhard Russi of Switzerland. It measures about 1.7 miles in length with an average 31 percent grade.

Chief among the attack-from-the-back crowd was Italian Matteo Marsaglia, who skied into fourth place with bib 28, for his best-ever downhill result. It took nearly a decade for him to do it.

“I won here almost 10 years ago in super-G, then I had a lot of injury, a lot of bad moments,” said Marsaglia, who is 36 years old. According to FIS records, he took gold in the Birds of Prey super-G on Dec. 1, 2012.

“I believed in myself, I keep trying, keep trying,” Marsaglia said, adding he’s felt confident about his skiing here, on what he called his “favorite slope,” starting with the week’s first training run.

“I waited 10 years for this moment,” Marsaglia said.

The course record of 1:39.59, set 18 years ago by American Daron Rahlves, was almost matched Saturday.

“It was close today. Kilde skied amazing, he had really fast skis,” said Rahlves, who predicted the record might fall at Sunday’s downhill, which begins at noon and wraps up the four-event race weekend.

“I’ve held this since 2003,” Rahlves said. “It’s going to go down one of these days.”

Kilde said he dedicated Saturday’s winning run to teammate Kjetil Jansrud, who was injured here Friday in the super-G. 

“He’s given so much to the team and we’re going to miss him,” Kilde said, adding that he hopes Jansrud, a 36-year-old veteran with 23 career wins to his name, can return this season.

“We’re not ready to lose him already,” Kilde said.

Prior to the race start, retired racer turned broadcaster Ted Ligety’s illustrious career was recognized by organizers who renamed the section of the racecourse below Screech Owl “Ligety’s Legacy” in his honor. The only American man with two Olympic gold medals in alpine ski racing won five World Cup giant slalom races on the Birds of Prey course.

Follow Madeleine on Twitter, @Madski99

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