Birds of Prey

Marco Sullivan ready to run downhill

If you're a downhiller, and Marco Sullivan is a world-class downhiller, you live for races like the one this Friday, the screaming Birds of Prey World Cup stop in Beaver Creek, Colo. It's the premier men's downhill race each year in the United States.

And, this year, it carries a little extra meaning for Marco -- a little something extra to show he's back.

Last year, he was rolling along when a freaky training crash in Bormio, Italy, just after Christmas left him with a nasty concussion -- and, also, a little work to be done on his right knee.

The knee -- not so bad.

The concussion -- bad.

The actual symptoms, he said, lasted about two weeks, the throbbing, the dull headaches, the sensitivity to light.

After those two weeks, he said, he thought he was ready to go.

The doctors hooked him up to machines that measured his reaction times to memory tests -- shapes, numbers and so on.

He definitely was not ready to go.

For a guy like Marco, who grew up in Squaw Valley, Calif., who was on skis at 3, who was racing by 7, this was not good.

As easy-going as he is -- this was definitely not good.

Ultimately, it would take a solid two months until Marco would be cleared to ski.

He "fore-ran" the course -- that's ski-talk for coming down the mountain first -- at the U.S. Nationals, in the late spring. Then he got back with the U.S. team and moved on to training camps in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., in May.

Even then, though, he was skiing "tentatively," adding, "I don't know if it was because of the head injury or if it was because of how long I had been off skis. I wasn't myself."

In September, as is traditional, the American team went down to Chile, in search of Southern Hemisphere snow. It was there -- nearly nine long months after the concussion -- that Marco felt himself again.

"I felt like I could charge without any reservations," he said. "I was charging and skiing well. I knew I was going to be a competitor again."

Last weekend, in Lake Louise, Alberta, up in Canada, Marco got back in the World Cup points, finishing 24th in the downhill, 17th in the super-G.

As if Marco needs yet more motivation at Birds of Prey -- it was here in 2004, during a training run, that he wiped out and tore an ACL. That injury more or less cost him two seasons.

This is his 12th year on the U.S. Ski Team. He has pretty much seen it all.

"I'm feeling  strong," he said. "The equipment's good."

He added, "As you get older, you take more pleasure in seeing your teammates do well. Of course you're still in it to win. It used to be, though that when my teammates won, I was [mad]. Now it's like I'm stoked for the younger guys to ski fast. I want to see our whole team succeed and I'm trying to be a big part of that. We do have a strong team this year. It should be exciting."