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Waiting game over for AJ Bear

17 February 2006

After more than a week waiting around while his roommate, Craig Branch, attacked the downhill on Day 2 at Torino 2006 and the guy next door, Jono Brauer, took his shot at the combined on Day 4, AJ Bear is more than ready to go now that it's his turn on February 18 (Day 8).

The 29-year-old from Sydney has been training hard to prepare for the Super G, which uses the same hill at Sestriere Borgata as the men's downhill and combined downhill, but starts a little further down.

"I'm feeling great. I've had some great training the past four days, although the weather hasn't been co-operating the past couple of days," Bear said on the eve of his race.

"The snow's come in and we've got about a foot of fresh snow. There are a lot of people out there on the course working on it, so hopefully they get that scraped off back to the ice, but I'm really looking forward to tomorrow."

Super G is the second-fastest of the alpine events and, in many ways, the most challenging, requiring not only skiing ability, but bravery and brainpower as well.

The course is set on the morning of the race, with a series of gates forcing the skiers to tackle the 2325-metre Kandahar Banchetta course fast and hard, but with great control.

"We get an hour and a half to inspect the course, and we spend that time looking at every little bump and turn in the course," Bear explained.

"Then you have about an hour and a half before you start, so you spend that time visualising the lines you want to take so you know where you're going over the different blind rises - and there's a lot of terrain on this course, so there's a lot to remember.

"But I've done a lot of work with that in the past and I've got a pretty good memory and visualisation skills, so I guess I have an advantage there."

Bear, who did not finish the Super G at the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics, has had a severely injury-interrupted campaign since then.

The following season, after scoring a 21st placing in Super G at Val Gardena, he was on track for the first top-20 of his career at Bormio in January 2003 when he crashed, suffering concussion and a broken arm.

In 2003/04, after back-to-back top-30 results he was again in great form, but in another high-speed crash, this time at Val Gardena, he damaged the anterior cruciate ligament ending his season.

A third successive season ended in pain when another high-speed crash at Bormio, in late December 2004, caused more knee ligament damage and forced a second knee reconstruction.

"It took a few races to build up my confidence. Being injured three years in a row definitely did some damage to my confidence, and you need to be supremely confident to race World Cup," Bear said.

"Unfortunately I also had a virus for about a month and a half, which luckily enough I managed to overcome a week or so before coming into the Olympic Village, so once I overcame that I got some good training in.

"I'm feeling 100 percent now and really ready to rip it up – to just give it my all and see what happens."

Glad to be at his second Olympics, Bear is not placing too much pressure on himself to produce a career-defining performance, although it would be fitting if the skiing 'gods' gave a little back to a man who has been through so much.

"I ski my fastest when I'm relaxed and I'm enjoying it, so I don't really have any other expectations, so I'm just going to go out there and try to enjoy it," he said.

"I know what to do. I've done all the hard work. My body knows what to do, my subconscious knows what to do, so I've just got to go out there and let myself do it."

Murray Brust/AOC
Sestriere

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