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Ghedina, downhill’s heir apparent, christens Birds of Prey

December 4, 1997

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) _ Kristian Ghedina conquered a new mountain Thursday and confirmed his status as heir apparent in skiing’s glamour event, the men’s downhill.

The Italian’s smooth, nearly error-free victory christened the new Birds of Prey course, site of the 1999 World Championships, and kicked off a men’s World Cup downhill season made even more intense by the Olympic Games looming just two months away.

While the steep slopes and sharp turns high in the Rockies challenged the world’s best under a gleaming sun, Ghedina flew across the last half of the trail on a daring line different than the one used by most of his competition.

``It was a little bumpy and during inspections I saw it was better to ski on the outside line,″ Ghedina said.

The result was his eighth World Cup triumph, all of them in downhills.

``I’m very happy,″ Ghedina said. ``I would have been happy with sixth place, and today I won.″

Jean-Luc Cretier, 31, of France stunned the field by finishing second, .22 seconds behind Ghedina. Cretier tied his best-ever World Cup finish, in 1994 at Chemonix, France.

He had finished no better than 12th, and that in a super-G event, in the past two years.

``It’s nice for me because I am old now,″ he said.

Lasse Kjus of Norway, the 1996 overall World Cup champion, was third, .24 seconds behind Ghedina.

``The course was faster because the snow was more compact and the new snow was shuffled away,″ Kjus said. ``The good weather and the sunshine made it easier to see and find the right line.″

The race, a makeup for the canceled downhill a week ago at Whistler, British Columbia, was the first of two downhills scheduled on Beaver Creek Mountain in as many days. The second will be Friday. A World Cup super-G race is set for Saturday.

Ghedina was the seventh of the 71 racers to ski down Birds of Prey, which starts at the 11,424-foot level near the top of the mountain, then descends on a vertical drop of 2,460 feet. In some places, the skiers must negotiate a 45-degree slope, reaching speeds at or over 80 mph.

Ghedina won three World Cup downhills last year en route to a runner-up finish to the now-retired Luc Alphand of France. The Birds of Prey layout, with relatively sharp turns at the bottom of the steepest slopes, was not his favorite.

``I don’t like the steeps,″ he said, ``but I skied better in the steeps today, and that was my winner.″

Ghedina won in 1 minute, 41.16 seconds, on a course hardened by temperatures that dipped toward zero overnight.

Cretier was timed at 1:41.38 and Kjus at 1:41.40.

The powerful Austrian team, which had the five fastest times in Wednesday’s training run, didn’t make it to the podium. Josef Strobl was the fastest Austrian, fourth at 1:41.94.

Kyle Rasmussen, in his first race back from a serious knee injury, was the top American, 24th at 1:42.81. Tommy Moe was 26th at 1:42.90 and AJ Kitt 29th at 1:43.19.

``I would say my run was as good as I had today,″ Rasmussen said. ``I couldn’t expect more.″

The new course, hailed as a rival to the great trails of Europe, was benign in the training run but lived up to its name in Thursday’s race as three horrific crashes delayed completion of the race while the injured were removed from the course.

The most spectacular crash was by Canada’s Cary Mullen, whose skis went sideways on the final jump, known as ``Red Trail,″ just before the finish line. His skis snapped off as he hit the snow, then he tumbled in a semi-fetal position to the finish line, where he lay motionless.

Mullen, trying to return to the form that earned him one World Cup victory and two second-place finishes in 1994, was pulled to the base of the mountain on a toboggan.

Max Rauffer of Germany and Daniel Dorigo of Italy also crashed on the course. Rauffer careened into a safety net and was removed on a sled. Dorigo was able to walk off on his own.

Mullen and Rauffer were taken to Vail Valley Medical Center. Mullen had a concussion and a CAT scan was planned. However, the injury was not believed to be serious. Rauffer had a broken rib and possible dislocated shoulder.

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