The most consistent downhill skier of all time finally added the lone piece of hardware missing from his trophy case on Monday when Switzerland’s Beat Feuz struck gold in the sport’s most prestigious event.
The 34-year-old from the tiny village of Schangnau won the Olympic men’s downhill title with a blistering trip down the unforgiving speed course known as the Rock in 1min 42.69sec, coming in a scant 0.10sec ahead of France’s Johan Clarey, who took the silver, and 0.14sec faster than Austria’s Matthias Mayer, who added a bronze to his Sochi gold of eight years ago.
“I can’t think of anything more beautiful than flying home with a gold medal around my neck,” said Feuz, the four-time reigning World Cup downhill champion with a record 45 career wins in alpine skiing’s fastest discipline. “It was perfect weather, no wind, and I was just standing perfectly on the skis. A dream came true.”
A jubilant Feuz tossed one of his skis high in the air in the finish area after seeing the green light indicating he had taken the lead with a run that knocked the Norwegian pre-race favorite Aleksander Aamodt Kilde off the podium. Thrown off by the extra speed of the upper sections of the 890m track, Kilde’s eventual fifth-place finish completed an underwhelming day for alpine skiing’s power couple after his partner Mikaela Shiffrin skied out of the women’s giant slalom earlier Monday.
Experience proved a crucial asset in successfully negotiating the 40 gates along the unfamiliar man-made piste in the absence of the usual test events that allow skiers to get accustomed to the mountain. The men’s World Cup downhill and super-G races scheduled at the newly constructed facility on Xiaohaituo in February 2020 were among the first international sporting events canceled as the coronavirus outbreak took hold.
Clarey, a 41-year-old who has never won a World Cup race in 19 seasons on the circuit, eclipsed the record for oldest alpine skiing Olympic medalist held by Bode Miller, who was 36 when he won bronze in the men’s super-G in 2014. And Mayer, a 31-year-old who won Olympic golds in downhill in 2014 and in super-G in 2018, joined Feuz as only the eighth and ninth skiers to win multiple Olympic downhill medals.
“With all the delays and the conditions and everything that is around the downhill slope, I think to have some experience was OK today,” Clarey said. “You can see it on the podium.”
Added Clarey: “I was pushing, pushing, taking a lot of risks. I knew I only had one chance left in my career to get a medal in the Olympics.”
The 5ft 8in Feuz, who missed several seasons amid a series of persistent left knee injuries, entered the Beijing Games in a rich vein of form, having won last month’s famed Hahnenkamm downhill at Kitzbühel in addition to a pair of podiums in World Cup speed races. He also recently welcomed a second daughter with his longtime partner Katrin Triendl, a former Austrian slalom champion.
With Monday’s dramatic win in the blue-ribbon event of the Winter Games, his resume is beyond reproach.
Switzerland’s Marco Odermatt, the World Cup overall leader, finished 0.71sec back and in seventh, behind Italy’s Dominik Paris and ahead of Austria’s current double world speed champion Vincent Kriechmayr.
Ryan Cochran-Siegle, the American whose mother won Olympic gold in slalom at the 1972 Sapporo Games, lost time before the first split and was unable to make it up on the lower sections. He came in 1.33sec behind Feuz and finished 14th.
It didn’t take long for the treacherous course at the National Alpine Center to show its teeth. Germany’s Dominik Schwaiger, the second racer out of the starting gate, caught an inside edge while traveling at nearly 80mph toward the bottom of the course, lost a ski while caught in the safety netting and was evacuated by stretcher. Shortly after, Austria’s Daniel Hemetsberger finished his run with a bloody nose and mouth after colliding with a gate.
The men’s downhill was initially scheduled to open the alpine skiing programme on Sunday but was postponed a day thanks to punishing 40mph gusts at the top of the course.