Ganong looks for breakout year with Sochi looming

(Eds: Adds details, quotes. With AP Photos.)By PAT GRAHAMAP Sports Writer

Travis Ganong has been this can’t-miss talent for years, the U.S. downhill skier always on the precipice of big things.

That distinction arrived with good reason – he attacks a course a lot like former skiing great Daron Rahlves, the four-time Olympian that Ganong grew up idolizing.

Maybe a bit uncomfortable with the ”skier most likely to break out” label in years past, Ganong embraces that title now.

And this would certainly be a good time for a breakout, with the Sochi Games two months away.

”I’m definitely ready, ready for sure, to be fighting for the podium every single day,” said the 25-year-old Ganong, who finished seventh in a downhill training run on Thursday, 0.55 seconds behind Canadian Erik Guay’s winning time. ”I’ve had a lot of experience now on the World Cup tour. I’m very solid on my skis, very balanced, comfortable on the World Cup hills. Just ready. Hopefully, this will be the year.”

Ganong has shown hints of his talent, taking seventh during a downhill race in Bormio, Italy, last December. He also won a training run at Beaver Creek last season.

What’s been holding him back from that elusive first podium spot? Well, the little things, really, he said, like proper diet, training the right way and getting suitable rest. This season, he’s focusing on those minute details to shave tenths of seconds off his time.

”Ski racing is such a competitive, tight sport,” Ganong said. ”There are tiny little variables that separate people from winning a race and getting 10th. Now, it’s just a matter of putting myself in a position to win, kicking out of the starting gate and letting all the pieces kind of fall in place.

”I’m ready to go to the next level.”

There are those on the World Cup circuit who believe that as well.

”He’s a great technical skier,” Guay said. ”With his technique, he can take some chances that other athletes might not be able to get away with. He’s emerging and will be around.”

Even more so thanks to all his heart-to-heart chats with Rahlves. They talk all the time about how Ganong can find more speed on a course since he’s not the biggest of skiers, just like Rahlves.

”I’ve modeled my skiing after him because he’s a legend,” said Ganong, who grew up skiing at Squaw Valley, Calif. ”He’s just a good role model for me. He’s a good friend to have and a good inspiration for my career.”

Rahlves also gets through to Ganong. So does U.S. speed coach Andreas Evers. That hasn’t always been the case with Ganong. It’s not that he’s strong-willed so much as he simply grew up freeskiing on the mountain and feeling things out on his own.

”When I made it on the U.S. Ski Team, I kind of butted heads a lot with different coaches,” Ganong said. ”Skiing fast is pretty simple. You go downhill as fast as you can, fighting gravity the least amount as you can. Other coaches break it down and make it super complicated.”

That’s not the case with Evers.

”Having Andy on board, he keeps things super simple,” Ganong said. ”I respect what he says.”

As for any added pressure with this being an Olympic year, Ganong said he actually feels more at ease.

”I’ve been nervous for the start of the season in years past, a little nervous to see if I still have the speed, still have what it takes,” Ganong said. ”Now, three or four years down the road of doing the same thing, going into this new year, I feel relaxed and ready. I’m ready to go. I can’t wait.”