Saturday, March 10, 2012

Good Impressions Part 2

Now onto the men. It was really hard to narrow the list down to 10 men who impressed me this season. There were so many across all five disciplines. I paid more attention to the men this year because the race for the overall Crystal Globe and most of the smaller Globes will come down to the finals, which start early next week. The women's Globes, except for giant slalom, were locked up early, which takes away a lot of the excitement of the season and finals. Anyway, on to the men. Again, they're in alphabetical order.

Max Blardone (Italy): Max has had two wins in giant slalom this season and has also been on the podium. He has always been one of the better men in GS, but this season he has really put it all together and is having a great year. Max also has one of the best victory celebrations. He forms his ski poles into a bow and arrow and shoots one of the poles into the crowd.

Didier Cuche (Switzerland): Like a fine wine, Didier gets better with age. At 37 he is still winning races. Didier is a great role model for what an older athlete can accomplish. He will retire at the end of the season and will be missed. Didier's post-run celebration is also entertaining. He loosens one ski, kicks it into the air so it flips over a couple of times, then catches it.

Beat Feuz (Switzerland): Beat is achieving the potential that he showed as a junior skier by leading the World Cup overall standings. He is a speed specialist, but was also good enough in the combined event (1 run downhill, 1 run slalom) to be on the podium in all 4 of those races. I also admire his sportsmanship. He always seems to be smiling and complimenting his teammates.

Max Franz (Austria): Before the season started, I didn't hold much hope for the young Austrians. But Max has been a real surprise and gem for the Austrian Power Team. He is young (22) and has had quite a few top-15 results this season. What is amazing is that early in the season he got good results with a high start number. Just last week he had his best finish, a 5th in Super-G. He is definitely one to watch in the speed events. The Austrian legacy of great men in the speed events continues.

Marcel Hirscher (Austria): Marcel has won 8 slalom and giant slalom races this season. At age 22, his career is just getting started. He and Beat Feuz are in a very exciting duel for the overall Crystal Globe that will come down to the finals. I really admire Marcel's nerves of steel. He was embroiled in a cheating scandal earlier this season but was cleared. A lesser skier would have let the pressure of it get to him. But Marcel just kept on winning. If he wins the Globes for both slalom and GS, he will become only the 7th man to accomplish that feat. I can only imagine how great Marcel will be once he hits his physical peak.

Kjetil Jansrud (Norway): On a word association test, the usual answer to, "Great Norwegian all-around skier" would be Kjetil's teammate Aksel Lund Svindal. But this season Kjetil is only one of four men to score points in all 5 disciplines. Kjetil has been known as a giant slalom specialist, but this season he has been on the podium in speed events and even won one. In the next couple of years he could be a real contender for the overall Globe.

Klaus Kroell (Austria): Klaus has been a very consistent performer for Austria in the speed events. He is the top contender for the downhill Globe. His performances this year have been a real inspiration to his younger teammates like Max Franz and Joachim Puchner. Klaus is also very friendly. I rode up to the ski area in the gondola with him. He happily chatted with all of us in the gondola.

Alexix Pinturault (France): Alexis is the latest addition to the strong French technical team. He is also very young (turning 21 later this month) but is already achieving the potential that he showed as a junior with two 2nd places (GS and combined) and a win at the Moscow City Event. Alexis is also very good in slalom and has some top-10 finishes this season. He tends to have a problem putting together two good runs, but he will become more consistent with experience. I see him being a real superstar in the technical events and a great challenger to Hirscher.

Ben Thomsen (Canada): Ben's most impressive finish was 5th place in the Chamonix downhill with start number 50. He follwed that up the next week with a second place finish in the Sochi downhill.  Erik Guay, Jan Hudec, and now Ben give the Canadians a triple threat in downhill races. Ben is also young and looks to have a bright future.

Naoki Yuasa (Japan): Despite being from a two-man ski team, Naoki has been very impressive this season. He has broken into the top 10 and even into the top 5 in slalom races. Naoki also skis on Hart skis, which is a manufacturer of freestyle skis. But they obviously work very well for him. I personally think it's great when a skier from a small team does well against the "big boys."

Honorable Mentions: As I said above, it was hard to limit this list to ten men. Some of the other men who were exciting to watch this season were: Fritz Dopfer (Germany), Marcel Mathis (Austria), Bode Miller (USA), Joachim Puchner (Austria), and Benjamin Raich (Austria).

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