CHAMONIX, France (Jan. 26) - Two-time Olympian Marco Sullivan (Squaw Valley, CA), who missed two seasons with knee injuries, used his gliding skills almost flawlessly in a tricky Kandahar downhill to win the first World Cup race of his career Saturday. His time over the 3.4K La Verte course was 2:00.11 for a victory by four-tenths of a second over World Cup DH leader Didier Cuche of Switzerland. Bode Miller (Bretton Woods, NH) was seventh with T.J. Lanning running 55th and finishing 23rd.
Marco Sullivan stands alone on the podium in the Chamonix finish line as champion of the Kandahar downhill for his first World Cup win.
"I knew I could kill 'em with my gliding if I could carry my speed off the top. It all came together," Sullivan said. "I wasn't sure if my run would be good enough to win. I had a couple of small scrubs [of time] on top, but I knew this was my kind of course and I knew I had a good run."
Sullivan, 27 and in his ninth season on the U.S. Ski Team, got his first World Cup top-3 Nov. 24 when he was second on another good-for-gliders course at Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies. He won the renowned Kandahar downhill in 2:00.11. Cuche's time was 2:00.51 with Slovenian Andrej Jerman third (2:00.57). Miller was clocked in 2:00.91 and Lanning finished in 2:01.67.
The results tightened the overall men's Audi Alpine World Cup points race. Austrian Benjamin Raich finished outside the top 30 but held onto his lead with 892 points in 25 races. Cuche moved past Miller into second at 874 and Miller is third (867).
Sullivan, who jumped into fourth in the downhill standings, was seven-hundredths behind at the first split but took the lead the rest of the way.
Sullivan: "I never slowed down"
"I had bib No. 11 and that's my sister's favorite number. I talked to her last night and told her I was gonna lay one down for her," a smiling Sullivan said in the finish after phone calls to two missing teammates. "I felt like I was skiing for more people than myself. I talked to [Steven] Nyman and I talked to 'Mac' [Scott Macartney - Crystal Mountain, WA], and they're both out with injuries. So, in the start, I told myself, 'This is for everybody.'"
Although there was a bright sun in a cloudless sky, there were shadows which were problematic for some skiers. "It was dark in the shadows, but I had this funny confidence I wasn't gonna hit any bumps," Sullivan said. "I couldn't see in the flats, but I just kept standing on that Nordica ski and kept rolling. I never slowed down."
He was amped a bit more than usual, he said, "because it was race day. I was catching more air off some of the jumps than in training. I was charging."
Securing his first two podiums are a payoff for the hard work Sullivan has put into his training and skiing after suffering torn right knee ligaments in a Dec. 4, 2003 training crash at the Birds of Prey races in Beaver Creek, CO. He reinjured the knee and missed the 2005 season, returning to make the 2006 Olympic Team.
DH Head Coach Chris Brigham said simply, "Quite a day, quite a fantastic day. The boy was very impressive. Obviously, it's been an emotional week for all us, the athletes and the coaches, the Team as a group with Mac and Steven being injured and not here. But this caps it off nicely. Unfortunately, Steven and Mac aren't here or we could have had one hell of a day.
"Marco's just stepped up his game over the last couple of years, and he's become more of a professional - and now it's showing," Brigham said.
Brigham" Do they know Marco's coming...?"
Track conditions were hard and fast after a week of mostly blue skies and temperatures near freezing. "This course is right up Marco's alley. He's become a much better turner and I asked Phil [McNichol, men's head coach] at breakfast, looking at the sunshine and the beautiful day, 'Do they know Marco's coming today?' You couldn't ask for a nicer setting for the Cali boy. And Bode was hurting from a crash in training, so it was nice to see him muscle his way there and get it done, get some points and tighten that overall race."
McNichol agreed. "This was epic for Marco. Good guy, smile on his face all the way down and he deserved it. He's skied better and better this year, and he really pinned it today. He skied early, so we knew he was fast but the question was whether his time would hold up.
"And T.J., coming off that Europa Cup downhill win last week, is in a good place, too. He's confident, he's skiing well and good for him."
The men face a super combined Sunday with a downhill and one run of slalom. WCSN.com will broadcast live webcasting at 5 a.m. ET for the downhill and 8 a.m. ET for the slalom run. They have the same schedule next weekend in Val d'Isere, host of the 2009 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships - downhill and super combined.
For photos from this race click here.
Audio and video of the U.S. Ski Team in Chamonix is available here.
2008 AUDI FIS ALPINE WORLD CUP
60th Kandahar Trophy
Chamonix, FRA - Jan. 26, 2008
1. Marco Sullivan, Squaw Valley, CA, 2:00.11
2. Didier Cuche, Switzerland, 2:00.51
3. Andrej Jerman, Slovenia, 2:00.57
4. Rainer Schoenfelder, Austria, 2:00.61
5. Manuel Osborne-Paradis, Canada, 2:00.73
7. Bode Miller, Bretton Woods, NH, 2:00.91
23. T.J. Lanning, Park City, UT, 2:01.67
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