Three days of skiing left for us here in Austria now. Today was GS training; yesterday we got to free-ski on our super G skis for a while, which is always fun. (Super G skis are long — 200-205 cm — and built to ski really fast.)
On Sunday we drove over to Sölden, a couple hours away, to watch the opening men's World Cup GS race. The American Bode Miller had a commanding lead after the first run and even halfway through the second run, but he was outskied on the bottom half of the run by the Austrian Hermann Maier, who managed to beat him by 0.06 seconds... still, second place is not a bad first result of the season for Bode. The best story of the day for the Americans, though, was the 8th-place finish by Ted Ligety, who's only 22 or so and had only once before cracked the top 10 of a World Cup race. Although he was best known as a slalom skier until now, he really showed off his GS skills on Sunday. Because of his low international ranking in GS, he started with bib number 64 out of 75 or so. He finished the first run in 24th place, and then moved up to 8th by winning the second run outright. He got a special award for being the racer who finished the furthest ahead of his start number.
World Cup ski races in Europe are a big spectacle. No ski event in the U.S. can really prepare you for how much they care about ski racing over here. Almost all the Europeans in the race (even the rookies and also-rans) have their own fan club, usually based in their home towns. The clubs charter tour buses and party the entire way from their little Italian or Austrian or Slovenian village to the site of the race. The night before the race, they stake out a section in the finish-area bleachers and erect huge billboards praising their athletes. Then during the race they blow air horns and ring giant cowbells when the skier is on course, all the while consuming massive quantities of beer, schnapps, and glüwein.