In a "super combi" race today I had the sixth-fastest downhill run and the third-fastest slalom run and finished in fourth place overall, equalling my previous best World Cup finish, from a super G in Korea three years ago. But first let me back up.
I made such a boneheaded mistake in yesterday's downhill. After a solid training run with only one section that could've stood major improvement, you'd think I would have made damn sure I knew what my plan was for that section of the course when it came time for the first race run that same afternoon. But the entrance to that section was still a question mark in my mind, and sure enough I blew it there, skiing too straight into a two-gate left-hand turn and finding myself unable to stay in the course at that speed. The result: Did Not Finish.
Today was the second consecutive beautiful, cold, bluebird day, and it was decided at the meetings last night that we would be running a "super combi" race today. The super combined is a relatively new race format that combines one run of either downhill or super G with a single run of slalom, all in one day. It favors the strong all-around skier. I'm not sure if I'm that, exactly, but I am strong in the two most extreme disciplines, downhill (the fastest) and slalom (the tightest). Consequently I had an inkling that I could do well today — always a dangerous thing. (If you don't believe me, see the cocky and ultimately fruitless predictions I made in my last post.)
From 8:30 to 9:00 this morning we were allotted more time to inspect the downhill course, although it was the same one we ran yesterday. I was able to pick out my line through the the section that gave me trouble yesterday: gates 20 and 21, the entrance to the section known as Acque Minerale, or "Mineral Water," for the way that it requires you to let your skis move fluidly back and forth down a steepish pitch. It basically worked out: I raced that section well, if perhaps a little conservatively. The course ran faster today than yesterday, thanks to a combination of colder temperatures, more firmly packed snow, and our increased confidence on the hill. It was a little bumpy in places, and while it never felt like too wild a ride, it was tough to be perfectly clean all the way down the piste. I ended up sixth in the downhill, a respectable finish and not a bad position to attack the slalom from.
During inspection we all noted that the course (set by a Slovakian coach) was a bit odd and arrhythmical — none of us liked the looks of it much. My approach was to ski the run at a solid 90 percent and make a clean run, and it paid off. My run felt solid, given what the course set.
In fact, when I crossed the finish line after my slalom run, I was in first place. In a two-run race like today, the second run start order reverses the top 15 finishers from the first run, so I was happy that I hadn't let any of those who I beat in the morning's downhill sneak past me in the slalom. But I knew that the fastest five guys were still on their way down and that I probably didn't have a great shot at a podium finish even though a few of them were not strong slalom skiers. So my heart raced as I watched what unfolded:
Harry Eder (AUT), in 5th place after the downhill, beats me, so I'm now in second place.
Shannon Dallas (AUS) beats us both and takes the lead, so I'm now in bronze-medal position. (He is the eventual super combi winner.)
Martin Braxenthaler (GER) makes a mistake on the final pitch, falls and missed gates, but gets up and finishes — a bit of a no-no; you can be fined for doing it in a World Cup. He gets a time, but is obviously disqualified, so I remain third.
Sean Rose (GBR), a better downhiller than he is a slalom skier, finishes with what was clearly a slower run than mine. The digital scoreboard reads, "Place: 4." I assume I am still in third.
Tyler Walker (USA), the leader after the downhill, falls in the same place as Martin, hikes, and finishes well out of contention.
My conclusion, and that of everyone around me, is that I've finished third and have won my first-ever World Cup medal. Right away everyone starts shaking my hand and congratulating me, and I'm beaming. The race is now over, and I can't wait for the coaches to come down so I can tell them about my accomplishment. I reflect on how long I've been racing World Cups — ten years, off and on — without a podium finish, and now the day finally seems to have come.
It's not for another ten or fifteen minutes, as I'm getting out of my monoski and getting ready to go home and change for the awards ceremony, that our head coach Ray's voice comes over another coach's radio: "Unofficial results: Burnett, 4th." I can't believe what I'm hearing. Did some inattentive gatekeeper forget to disqualify Braxenthaler? Was the electronic scoreboard wrong? Or was there some way I could have just miscalculated where I ended up?
Much later this afternoon, after the awards ceremony where the bronze medal is awarded to a surprised Sean Rose, I finally figure out the error in my thinking (and everyone else's, even Sean's). Have you figured it out?
By the way, this morning's run was scored as its own separate downhill race, besides serving as the first run of the super combi. The winner in my class was my teammate Tyler Walker, repeating his surprising feat from yesterday. I say surprising because Tyler has always been stronger in the technical events than in speed, and you may notice that I omitted him completely from my list of pre-race favorites. That was definitely a mistake; after these two days, Tyler is now the #1 ranked downhill sitting skier in the world.