Forgetful Strobl remembers how to win; Disappointment stings Rahlves, MillerReigning Olympic downhill champion Fritz Strobl of Austria won the Lake Louise downhill on Saturday, the first speed event of the World Cup season. Threats of a snowstorm proved to be hollow, but low cloud cover made for flat light, and that made it difficult for racers to anticipate the course’s plentiful and sharp terrain.
“I didn’t expect this,” said Strobl, who hadn’t won a World Cup since Garmisch in 2002. “The last one was a long time ago. My only goal was to do better than last year. â€¦ I just wanted to be in the top 10, so I was a little bit surprised.”
Strobl forgot his downhill suit at his hotel, and got to race only because a team manager retrieved it for him. “I had no time to be nervous,” he said.
American favorites Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller got bucked off line at several points in the course, as if they couldn’t see the knolls in front of them. The top American finisher was Steve Nyman, who finished in a tie for 14th for his career-best finish.
Michael Walchhofer, the tall and quiet Austrian with the wide tuck stance, was expected to do well, but he too got thrown off the line in a few spots and finished seventh. He is the reigning downhill discipline title winner. It is a trophy that usually finds its way into an Austrian’s hands.
Kjetil Andre Aamodt finished second after having won the final training run. The Norwegian said he’d considered retiring last year when the difficulty of coming back from a broken ankle made him feel like an old man. “In the end it came down to I love racing, love competing, love the lifestyle and we have a great team,” he said.
Marco Buechel of Liechtenstein was third, only 0.15 seconds off the pace. “The bumps got really bad,” he said. “I came down to the finish and I thought this is not good.”
The race started 250-300 meters lower on the mountain than it did last year. But even with a truncated course, the fastest time this year was 1:40.96 – comparable to last year, when Miller won in 1:42.75.
How the Americans did
Steve Nyman was the top American finisher, ending up 1.05 seconds off Strobl’s pace in a tie for 14th in Ambrosi Hoffman. The 215-pound, 6-foot-4 inch Utahn was the 2002 Sprint/Ski Racing Junior of the Year.
“You couldn’t see the bumps,” he said. “I just let my legs hang out there.”
The last World Cup Nyman raced was the Kitzbuehel super G last season, where he fell on his side six times. After that he injured his shin in a crash at Tarvisio, Italy.
He considers himself “a slalom skier at heart.”
Miller eluded television crews in the finish area by climbing over a fence to escape. Rahlves, who is intent on the downhill title, was very disappointed, but spoke briefly to reporters. “This is a tough one to swallow right now, for sure,” Rahlves said. “You pretty much have to step up and hit every race.”
Walchhofer is aware that Rahlves has made it his No. 1 goal to steal that title away from him this year. “I think Daron tries also to get the number one [status] in the U.S. downhill team again, and beat Bode,” Walchhofer said. “I think he could be one of the big conquerors.”
Last year, Miller won both races here, a downhill and super G, for his first career victory in each of those disciplines. Those wins represented a turning point in the American’s career, and he went on to win more speed events on the World Cup and at World Championships and took home the super G title.
Miller appeared poised to win the downhill again this year, winning two of the middle splits in the final training run Saturday before standing up before the finish, jockeying for a better start position in the race run.
Scott Macartney was 24th. “It was a little bit ragged, and there was some bad flat light,” he said.
Justin Johnson, who was 10th, 13th and 54th in the training runs, had a disappointing day, finishing 46th. Seconds before his start, one of his ski poles broke in half, forcing him to borrow a pair.
Marco Sullivan raced his first World Cup race in 32 months, having blown out his knee twice in that time. It was his first World Cup race since March 12, 2003, at Kvitfjell, Norway, where Sullivan finished 24th. “It’s good to get one in the books,” said the Californian, who finished 39th on Saturday.
Christopher Beckmann and Erik Fisher raced the first World Cup races of their careers. Fisher was 44th and Beckmann was 53rd. Click here for more on that.
The circuit within the circuit
This was the first of 10 men’s downhills on the 2005-06 World Cup calendar. The others are Beaver Creek, Colorado (Dec. 2); Val d’Isere, France (Dec. 10); Val Gardena, Italy (Dec. 16); Bormio, Italy (Dec. 29); Wengen, Switzerland (Jan. 14); Kitzbuehel, Austria (Jan. 21); Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany (Jan. 28); Chamonix, France (Feb. 4) and Are, Sweden (at the Finals, March 15).
Akira Sasaki designs
Several top skiers showed up on different equipment this season. Patrik Jaerbyn of Sweden is now on Fischer skis, although he has held on to his Atomic boots. Lasse Kjus of Norway is wearing Lange boots, not the beat-up, old-school Atomic boots he had taken to modifying on his own. And Steve Nyman of the United States used goggles designed by Japanese slalom skier Akira Sasaki, who also designs slalom suits. Sasaki’s label is called “Emusi,” which Nyman said means “sold” in Japanese.
What to watch for next
Sunday’s super G will start at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. Sunday night, the Outdoor Life Network will broadcast coverage of Saturday’s downhill race at 5 p.m. Eastern time. It is the first installment of the network’s 2005-06 “Ten Weeks to Torino” ski coverage, which will be aired in that time slot every Sunday.
On Monday, the men’s World Cup will pack up and travel to Colorado for four events in four days at Beaver Creek, including the famous Birds of Prey downhill on Friday, Dec. 2.