Haney’s Notes: The storied abyss of the Hahnenkamm

Posted By: Zeke Piestrup on January 21, 2011 2:17 pm

by Doug Haney, USSA press guru

Men’s speed Head Coach Chris Brigham (more well known as Uncle Virgil) has been with the U.S. Ski Team since 1995. Kitzbuehel gives him chills, not because of what can go wrong here, but because being fast here cements you into ski racing history.
There is nothing like the Hahnenkamm.
Down the road in Cortina (literally three hours drive from Kitz),  U.S. women have been arcing a legacy of domination on the Tofane. The course and views from early morning inspection are stunning. Here’s the notes:
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy – women’s super G
-       Take three. This race is actually the reschedule of a reschedule. Originally mapped for early Dec. in St. Moritz, it was bagged by wind. The next weekend it was set for Val d’Isere and three feet of snow said notta. Let’s hope the third pitch goes right down the middle. The U.S. gals carry big bats.
-       The first podium of LV’s career came right here with a downhill third. It was 1994. Since then, she’s added seven more podiums, including back-to-back SG/DH wins last season. Jules has six podiums of her own on the Tofane, including an ’07 super G win. These girls have been dominating training this week. Andy Dampf of the AP is on the scene: http://tiny.cc/5ut0c
-       The Hotel Splendid Venezia is old and so are the guests. There’s a room set aside for playing Bridge. Men gather in groups for dominos. Waist high Italian ankle biters toss checkers at each other. In the evening, they go nuts to a lounge duet straight out of Swingers. It’s pretty funny, but our Team seems to dig it. Even the coaches feel young there.
-       We’ve been going clown car on the top 30 all week in downhill training. Stacey, Chelsea, Leanne and Laurenne are ready to keep piling in. Survey says, start bibs are: Jules 11, LV 20, Laurenne 34, Leanne 35, Chelsea 43 and Stacey 51.
Go time is set for 4 a.m. ET on the East Coast of America. Universal Sports has got their speed rays clocked on the Tofane Schuss, so click away my friends.
Kitzbuehel, Austria – men’s super G
-       There is nothing like the Hahnenkamm. Welcome to the 71st year. We race at 5:30 a.m. ET live on www.UniversalSports.com. The SG is essentially a shortned training run for tomorrow – only the winner takes home $67,500 and gets their name on a gondola. Wrote this yesterday, dunno what else to say:
It’s quiet in the Kitzbuehel start. The stark white walls wash away sound and blend into the glassy snow beyond the start wand. Ski tips slide toward the storied abyss below. The next two minutes are the most frightening and exhilarating in all of ski racing. This is the Hahnenkamm.

“You’re in the start and you are amped at Kitzbuehel,” said Steven Nyman (Sundance, UT) “You’ve got to get amped for this race because you just stare straight down and in three seconds you’re going 60 mph and then the earth drops out from underneath you.”

For 70 years, legendary names have crashed and conquered in Kitzbuehel. Champions such as Erich Sailer, Jean-Claude Killy, Franz Klammer, Herman Maier and Daron Rahlves have been hoisted on shoulders and celebrated for swallowing nerves and staring down the Streif. Only the euphoria of victory can drown the roar of 60,000.

“Growing up, this is what you hear about. If you’re a downhiller, you know what Kitzbuehel is,” said Erik Fisher (Middleton, ID).

The U.S. Ski Team arrived last Sunday. Already, miles of wire are strung above the cobbled medieval streets. Hundreds of speakers are set to roll the pulsating crowd from the race hill flanks into a town-wide three-day party. Many fans and racers will head to the infamous Londoner, a local pub where athletes will man the bar -  a tradition that started with the Canadians in the 1980s when they won the Hahnenkamm for three straight years. 

Even before the first downhill training run, athletes feel the energy.

“Kitzbuehel is an unbelievable place,” said Head Coach Sasha Rearick. “It doesn’t take much to get the guys fired up. They come in here and are excited about it from the first day.”

Bode Miller (Franconia, NH) first felt it in 1998, but didn’t attempt the downhill for three more seasons. Now, he and his skis are etched into Hahnenkamm legend, despite not yet winning the notorious downhill.

A 2008 skis on the A-Net ride to second place was in some minds, as good as victory. This season, warm air, rain and a night of snow has molded the Streif into a twisting washboard of ice similar to the track that sent him sailing toward the fence in 2008.

He was fourth in Thursday’s training run, racing after Austrian Hans Grugger was helicoptered off the slope.

“Sure, it’s dangerous, but that’s the Hahnenkamm, it’s dangerous either way,” he said. “That’s a big part of what makes this race so cool.”

Miller, Nyman, Fisher, Ted Ligety (Park City, UT) and Kitz rookie Travis Ganong (Squaw Valley, CA) will race the downhill Saturday. NorAm super G champion Chris Frank (Windham, NY) will join them Friday for the opening super G.

After crossing the finish line 24th in Thursday’s training run, Ganong’s smile began a new story.

“It’s the Hahnenkamm,” he said. “It’s the toughest downhill race in the world and when I crossed the finish line, it was easily the most fun thing I’ve ever done.”

Zeke Piestrup ( More Posts)

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