SAALBACH-HINTERGLEMM, AUSTRIA – In the space of two weeks, the Austrian downhill team has gone from “historical disaster” to a clean sweep of the podium.
Olympic champion Matthias Mayer led an Austrian 1-2-3 finish in a World Cup race on home snow Saturday, marking the first such sweep in nine years for the once-dominant “Wunderteam.”
The feat came exactly 14 days after Austria failed to place a racer in the top 10 of the men’s downhill at the world championships in Colorado for the first time in the history of the event — stretching back to 1931.
“We had a historical disaster in Beaver Creek and it’s a little revenge,” Austria’s winter sports federation president Peter Schroecksnadel said. “That’s ski sport. If it wouldn’t be that (way) it wouldn’t be interesting.”
Mayer clocked 1 minute, 49.83 seconds down the rarely used Schneekristall-Zwolfer course to finish a slim 0.02 seconds ahead of Max Franz, who led both training runs. Hannes Reichelt placed third, 0.21 behind.
It was the first Austrian sweep of a men’s downhill since January 2006, when Hermann Maier, Klaus Kroell and Andreas Buder went 1-2-3 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
“This success is important for the entire nation and staff,” said Reichelt, who won the super-G at worlds.
It was Mayer’s second career World Cup win, having also taken a downhill at finals last March in Lenzerheide, Switzerland — a month after his surprise win at the Sochi Games.
“I had quite a fight but it was really cool,” said Mayer, who led the Austrians in 12th in the worlds downhill. “The visibility was brutal.”
After two days of sun for the training runs, clouds moved in and visibility was difficult, leading to 12 racers failing to finish. Skiers had expressed concern over the course’s safety during training and workers smoothed over a few areas for race day.
The last men’s downhill on this course was held in 1994, making it an entirely new piste for all of the current racers.
Austria, Norway and Germany trained on the course last week. While Mayer missed those sessions, it was obvious that his teammates benefited.
“It’s not surprising. (The Austrians) trained here before and that’s a big advantage,” said downhill standings leader Kjetil Jansrud of Norway, who finished 14th. “I got to train here, too, so I should probably be up there, too. But no one ever doubted they were good skiers. I’m not surprised they’re back in the lead.”
Schroecksnadel defended the Austrians’ extra training.
“Every nation does this,” Schroecksnadel said. “It might have been a little advantage but you still have to race.”
Rules permit racers to test the course up to five days before the opening training session. But since none of the current skiers had ever raced on this course, extra training proved to be even more of an advantage than usual.
With Vincent Kriechmayr skiing from bib No. 40 into sixth and Romed Baumann 10th, Austrians claimed five of the top 10 positions.
Former overall champion Carlo Janka of Switzerland finished fourth and David Poisson of France was fifth.
Struggling a day after chipping his tooth in a ragged training run, Jansrud still extended his lead in the downhill standings ahead of Italy’s Dominik Paris, who didn’t finish.