Thursday, February 22, 2024

Switzerland's ski racer Beat Feuz wins 'dream' Olympic downhill gold as wise heads prevail

Switzerland's ski racer Beat Feuz wins 'dream' Olympic downhill gold as wise heads prevail
February 7, 2022 AFP

YANQING (AFP) – Switzerland's Beat Feuz scorched to gold in the men's Olympic downhill on Monday in a dramatic race that pitted skiers against an unforgiving course that was untested before the Games.

The Swiss racer clocked 1min 42.69sec, finishing 0.10sec ahead of 41-year-old Frenchman Johan Clarey, while Austrian Matthias Mayer claimed a third Olympic medal in three Games with bronze.

Clarey became the oldest alpine skiing medallist in Olympic history.

Pre-race favourite Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway finished fifth, completing a miserable day for skiing's golden couple after his American girlfriend Mikaela Shiffrin slid out of the women's giant slalom earlier.

An elated Feuz whooped in the finish area after he saw the green light signifying he had taken the lead. He sent a ski twirling skywards, to the delight of a few hundred spectators made up mainly of volunteers and team members.

"It was perfect weather, no wind, and I was just standing perfectly on the skis. A dream came true," the 34-year-old said after he was confirmed as gold medallist in skiing's most prestigious Olympic event.

"The Olympics are a big thing, and today it worked for me. Four years ago I was second and third, but today everything came together. It means the world to me.

"I can't think of anything more beautiful than flying home with a gold medal around my neck."

Feuz, who won downhill bronze at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games (as well as super-G silver), and 2014 champion Mayer became just the eighth and ninth skiers to win multiple Olympic medals in the downhill.

Wise heads

In a race postponed from Sunday because of high winds, skiers cascaded down the "Rock" piste with a vertical drop of 890 metres (2,920 feet), quickly reaching motorway-cruising speeds of 140 kilometres per hour (87 miles per hour).

They soared in excess of 40 metres off some of the five jumps that punctuate a rolling man-made course.

A rip-roaring, snaky upper section left racers in no doubt about what awaited them. Arms and poles flailed as skiers tried desperately to maintain equilibrium.

There was early drama as Germany's Dominik Schwaiger lost a ski in a crash, collided with the safety netting and came to a halt in the middle of the piste, writhing in pain with what appeared to be a nastily injured forearm.

He was evacuated by stretcher, while Austrian Daniel Hemetsberger screamed past the finish line with blood streaming from his nose and mouth.

Feuz made no such mistake, however. The sturdy Swiss racer who thrives on testing pistes like the Streif in Kitzbuehel was best at negotiating the 40 gates of the 3.1km-long course, fashioned from artificial snow in a barren mountainscape in Yanqing, north of Beijing.

Two World Cup races on the hill, in 2020 and 2021, were cancelled because of Covid-19 restrictions in China, meaning racers had little time for reconnaissance.

And it was the old heads that shone through.

Clarey's historic silver smashed the record for oldest Olympic medallist in alpine skiing that previously belonged to American Bode Miller, who won a super-G bronze in 2014 aged 36 years and 127 days.

"When you are a medallist, (whether) you are 20 or 41 it doesn't matter, it's just an Olympic medal," said Clarey.

"Today I was fast. Not enough for the gold but silver is just my happiness."

Defending champion Aksel Lund Svindal, who earned Norway's first ever men’s downhill gold medal in 2018, retired from the sport in 2019.

Much weighed on the shoulders of Kilde in Svindal's absence, but he was even beaten by Canada's James Crawford.

"I had high expectations for sure. It's been a great season and in the Olympics, when you stand there as a favourite, you want to deliver," said Kilde, who will turn his attention to the super-G.

"The Olympics are not over yet so I just have to keep on going."

World Cup overall leader Marco Odermatt of Switzerland finished seventh, at 0.71sec, behind Italy's Dominik Paris and ahead of Austria's current double world speed champion Vincent Kriechmayr.