U.S. Ski Team come up big at Beaver Creek World Cup

BEAVER CREEK — It might have seemed like a tall order for the U.S. Ski Team to place two men in the top 10 of Friday’s World Cup downhill at snowy Beaver Creek, but Steven Nyman and Bryce Bennett came up big.

And tall.

Team America’s big men tied — to the hundredth of a second — for ninth place. Bennett checks in at 6-foot-6, which is quite tall for a ski racer, and Nyman stands only two inches shorter. Both weigh 220 pounds.

“I think it’s awesome that we tied,” Nyman said. “It’s so cool. Twin Towers, man. He’s my little protégé, but he’s not so little.”

Nyman, a three-time Olympian from Sundance, Utah, is 36. Bennett, a 26-year-old from Squaw Valley, Calif., made his Olympic debut last February, finishing 16th in downhill and 17th in alpine combined.

PyeongChang would have been Nyman’s fourth Olympics, but he blew out a knee three weeks earlier in a crash at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Despite recent ACL surgery, he’s back racing in hopes of making the world championships in February. World championships come every other year in ski racing.

“I take Celebrex and I feel fine,” said Nyman, who just missed a medal here during the 2015 world championships when he finished fourth, 0.03 of a second behind bronze medalist Beat Feuz of Switzerland. “I mean, I’m on drugs, but it’s OK and it’s getting better every opportunity I have to ski. That’s the biggest thing. I gain a lot of strength and I gain a lot of power every time I ski, so the more I ski, the more confident I’m going to become.”

A snow squall rolled over the Birds of Prey just before the start of Friday’s race and hampered visibility for the first few racers, as did a fog bank high on the course that followed the flurries. Later racers had better visibility but had to be wary of soft snow.

The men on the podium were tightly bunched. Feuz won, 0.07 of a second ahead of teammate Mauro Caviezel. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway was third, 0.08 behind Feuz. Nyman and Bennett were only 0.56 behind.

Nyman was one of the later starters, which meant being mindful of the new fallen snow, but he did benefit by watching how earlier racers executed one of the most crucial moves on the course, the notorious Talon Turn. It’s a high-speed, left-footed fall-away turn at the bottom of a steep pitch. Nyman altered his plan of attack there and skied it beautifully, a key to his result.

“Watching the first few guys, I saw the first couple guys go deep, which was my plan, but in inspection it was super soft in there,” Nyman said. “I just said, ‘I’m going tight.’ I saw Aksel’s line and I said, ‘I’ll try it,’ and I got away with it. That was really good.”

Bennett has had only two superior World Cup results in his career, a sixth in 2015 at Val Gardena, Italy, and an eighth there the following season. He was one of Friday’s early starters, but he also adjusted his tactics

“You had to be on your feet today as far as changing your plan tactically because of all this fresh snow,” Bennett said. “The snow conditions are completely different from what we’re used to here. There’s some soft snow and you can’t touch that soft snow. You had a plan, but you had to adapt on the fly. I thought I did an OK job of that.”

Sean M. Haffey, Getty Images

Bryce Bennett reacts after crossing the finish line during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Men’s Downhill on Nov. 30, 2018 in Beaver Creek. Bennett finished tied for ninth place.

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