BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) – As a tongue-in-cheek nod of thanks, U.S. Ski Team member Ted Ligety used to race wearing headgear emblazoned with the identities of his principal financial backers: Mom and Dad.

Nowadays, instead of a shout-out to relatives, Ligety has a true sponsor’s name there. A small step up, perhaps, and the sort of thing stars such as Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves haven’t had to worry about for years, thanks to all of their success.

Still, it’s yet another sign that there’s more to U.S. men’s skiing than Miller and Rahlves, and up-and-comers such as Ligety and Steve Nyman are aiming to make their marks on the World Cup circuit and at the Turin Olympics in February.

“We all train together, and we all know we can ski as fast as each other. We’re all capable of doing really well,” Nyman said. “It comes down to each of us as individuals to throw down. I know we can do it, and hopefully we all can do it this weekend.”

The four-race World Cup stop at Beaver Creek should be a good barometer for just how deep the American team is, with a super giant slalom Thursday, followed by a downhill Friday, a giant slalom Saturday and a slalom Sunday.

Nyman, for one, appears to be ready for a breakthrough. He tied for 14th at Lake Louise, Alberta, last weekend in his first career World Cup downhill, then was seventh in Tuesday’s training run on the Birds of Prey course at Beaver Creek. Practice was called off Wednesday because of heavy snowfall and winds topping 50 mph.

“It’s a pretty amazing team. Within the last season, we’ve had five or six different guys score in the giant slalom. I don’t know if that’s ever happened,” said the 21-year-old Ligety, who had four top-15 slalom finishes as a World Cup rookie last season. “Guys like Nyman come out – people don’t really expect him to start throwing down top 15s.”

The 23-year-old Nyman posted the best American result in last week’s Lake Louise downhill, and it showed real promise, because it usually takes experience to excel at the speed events.

Reigning world champion Miller, for example, finished 55th in the first World Cup downhill of his career and didn’t crack the top 15 until his ninth, four years later. Rahlves was 52nd in his downhill debut, and his first finish higher than 22nd came in his sixth time out – when he won.

Miller and Rahlves finished 1-2 in the downhill at Beaver Creek last season, when Miller won six of the first 10 World Cup races en route to the first overall title for an American man in 22 years.

But with Miller off to a slower-than-expected start to 2005-06 (he finished 18th and 22nd in the two Lake Louise events) and wondering aloud how much motivation he has left, now could be a time for less-heralded teammates to establish themselves.

Nyman was a junior slalom world champion in 2002 and finished 15th in his first career World Cup race that year, again in the gate event. His career was sidetracked, though, when he broke his left leg twice.

Marco Sullivan is also trying to get back to where he was before injuries. Sullivan, 25, missed the past two seasons, beginning when he tore ligaments in his right knee in a crash during a practice run at Beaver Creek in 2003. He was hurt again in Tignes, France, in 2004.

“The greatest athletes tend to be able to get out of those lows quicker than other athletes,” Nyman said. “Everybody can ski at the same level, but the athletes who can dig themselves out of those lows and get to a higher plane are the people who will succeed.”

He credited two-time Olympian Erik Schlopy with helping him deal with the rigors of making a comeback from injury. Schlopy, who has won seven U.S. championships and a bronze at the 2003 worlds, missed the 2003-04 season after left knee surgery.

Focusing now on the slalom and giant slalom, Schlopy – who married Olympic swimming champion Summer Sanders this year – helps the U.S. team avoid a monumental drop-off in experience after Miller and Rahlves.

Even if no one is quite ready to compare the American contingent to, say, Austria, Schlopy gets excited when talking about the strength of his squad.

“We’ve got probably the deepest team we’ve ever had. You’ve got guys that stuck around for a long time and are still doing well, like me and Daron. And you’ve got new guys that are coming up and having great results at a really young age. And you’ve got the guys in between,” Schlopy said. “Right now, our Olympic team will be the toughest Olympic team to make as a U.S. Ski Team member, probably in history.”



AP Sports Writer Erica Bulman contributed to this story.

AP-ES-11-30-05 1815EST


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