Val Gardena 2006: One star leaves, another arrives
On 10th December, only 5 days before the Super-G, FIS gave permission for the two World Cup races to be held on the Saslong. The international ski association was entering a huge risk, as at the time they gave permission, the ski slopes were still green. However, FIS believed in the weather forecast which promised lower temperatures allowing the production of artificial snow. And indeed the risk paid off: In three days the piste team led by Horst Demetz and Rainer Senoner managed to get the Saslong “race-fit”. At the team captains’ meeting on Tuesday FIS race director Günther Hujara praised the Val Gardena Organizing Committee: “I have no idea where you managed to find all this snow in the last few days, but ten minutes ago work on the piste was finished and the Saslong is now in perfect condition.”
This year the Saslong turned out to be one of the most challenging ever. Although the piste wasn’t as icy as other years, there were many other difficult sections along the course. Particularly the compression on the upper slope and the Ciaslat meadows allowed for no mistakes. FIS president Gianfranco Kasper said it clearly: “The Saslong is in an excellent condition. This piste is far more interesting with less snow.” More interesting, but less dangerous. During the whole World Cup race week, including two practice runs and two races there were only a handful of falls and, apart from one all ended without injury. Stefan Guay, the junior World Champion in giant slalom injured his cruciate ligaments in his right knee during a fall in the first practice run.
Until 2006 no American had managed to win one of the 49 World Cup races on the Saslong, but this year Bode Miller changed their luck. The extravagant overall World Cup winner of 2005 won the Super-G on the Saslong, even though he wasn’t allowed to sleep in his beloved caravan, but had to make do with a luxurious hotel room. But although Miller slept badly in the hotel (Miller: “I woke up at 4.45am and couldn’t fall asleep again.”) he managed to win even the “Dolomiti Super Trophy”, held for he first time this year, and the 25.000 Euro prize money.
Steven Nyman celebrated his first big win in the Ski World Cup in Val Gardena. After Miller’s win in the Super –G, Nyman’s victory in the Downhill made it a perfect US-double. Whereas Miller beat 2nd ranked Christoph Gruber from Austria and third ranked John Kucera from Canada comfortably, Nyman only just managed to beat Didier Cuche from Switzerland who had dominated the pratice runs, by 2/100 of a second. Third ranked was the Austrian Fritz Strobl. Although Gruber and Strobl made the podium the Austrians were never the less very disappointed as they are still waiting for a win in this season’s speed races. Fritz Strobl however was very happy with his third place, particularly considering that in the last few years he had on three occasions just missed the podium. “This year I was lucky. After all those fourth places I finally made third place by a hundredth of a second.” Strobl said.
Val Gardena was also where Kristain Ghedina said his final farewell to the ski circus. Having been the most successful downhill racer on the Saslong together with Franz Klammer (both won four times) he raced down his favourite piste, the Saslong, for the last time on 16th December, exactly 17 years after his first race in Val Gardena, with the same ski equipment he had used then. Although Ghedina was “only” allowed to participate as a forerunner, he turned his final run into a great show for all the spectators. Jumping over the feared Camel Humps and again at the final jump before the finish line, he did the splits.
Perhaps Steven Nyman will take after Ghedina. In fact Ghedina’s service man Leo Mussi is now working for Nyman and probably it was due to him that he managed to ski those two hundredths of a second faster to gain the victory.