November 29, 2012

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) -- No Bode. No Didier. No Beat.

At least there's still Aksel.

Some of the biggest names in downhill racing will be missing from the Birds of Prey hill Friday. Didier Cuche is, of course, now retired after an illustrious career and Bode Miller remains in recuperation mode following microfracture surgery on his left knee nine months ago.

Also absent is Swiss star Beat Feuz, who's skipping the season because of a knee ailment.

That's a lot of star power not stepping into the starting gate.

Even if all of them had been here, the skier to beat would still be Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, who's coming off two straight wins at Lake Louise, Alberta, last weekend. He's showing no signs of slowing down, either, as he turned in the top time Thursday, flying down the course in 1 minute, 42.04 seconds.

"With Aksel winning the training run today, and I'm sure he was going half speed, I think he will be tough to beat," Ted Ligety said. "I think he's definitely the favorite. As always, there are a lot of different guys that can get in there."

Like reigning downhill champion Klaus Kroell of Austria. He had the fastest training run earlier in the week, but even he is pointing toward Svindal, who's simply on another level right now.

Svindal had a lackluster run Wednesday, when he finished 17th. Turns out, though, he was experimenting with his skis, which led to his slower time.

Back on his usual skis, he was quick again.

"Anybody can win, but Aksel shows us what's going on," Kroell said.

A downhill race at Beaver Creek without Miller seems a little off. There's no telling when Miller will return to racing and he's in no hurry to get back, either.

One misstep with his balky knee and it could be the end of his career. That's why he's being cautious - a word not often associated with Miller, who's known for his aggressive approach.

And even though Miller's not racing, his name still gets mentioned quite a bit. Svindal finds that funny.

"I would say the media works a little differently in Europe compared to the U.S.," Svindal said. "In Europe, it's more about who wins. If you're a character outside of the slope, it's not as important in Europe. It's more about who's the fastest.

"When he's not racing, Bode still creates media. You're asking questions about him right now and he hasn't been racing for seven months. Characters like that are important in the U.S."

Although Svindal has been skiing well, he still studies video of others, just to see what they're doing to go fast.

Recently, he watched the performance of Travis Ganong, a 24-year-old from Squaw Valley, Calif. Ganong had the quickest time Wednesday and was just 0.41 seconds behind Svindal on Thursday.

"You watch Travis and it's like, `That's what I'm talking about!"' Svindal said. "You just can't have any slow sections."

Not if a skier expects a spot on the podium.

In his winning training run, Ganong did have a rather slow upper section. To fix that he chatted with former World Cup racer Daron Rahlves, who still holds the course record (1:39.59) with his winning run in 2003.

"Daron just said, `What's your plan there today? Try this,"' Ganong said. "It's good to have that as a resource."


FAMILY BUSINESS: Ryan Cochran-Siegle is in no rush to make his mark on the World Cup stage.

So young and so good, the 20-year-old from Starksboro, Vt., will ease his way into skiing's top level. He's scheduled to race in a few World Cup competitions, but will also drop down for some Nor-Am events as well.

At least that's the plan for now. Should he do well at, say, Beaver Creek, things could be adjusted.

"That would probably change plans a lot," Cochran-Siegle said.

Skiing just runs in his family. His mom, Barbara Ann Cochran, won Olympic gold in the slalom at the 1972 Winter Games. His aunt served as his first coach and his cousin, Jimmy Cochran, used to be a member of the U.S. Ski Team.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle is quite skilled in his own right, winning the downhill and combined at the 2012 junior worlds.


DOWN THE HILL: Guillermo Fayed of France had the second-fastest time Thursday. ... The venue is already gearing up for the 2015 world championships and Marco Sullivan wants to be around long enough to compete. "Before this year, I said I was striving for one more Olympics and call it," he said. "If things keep going well, I would love to race world championships here." Sullivan tied for third place in a downhill race at Lake Louise last weekend.

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