There are few things in this world that conjure up emotions of awe, excitement, and terror all at the same time quite like the Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbuehel, Austria, does. The best downhillers in the world have flocked to the small Tyrolean village of Kitzbuehel for the last 79 years to battle it out down the iconic Streif for the prestigious title of Hahnenkamm Sieger.
With projected weather forecasts calling for nasty and wet conditions over the weekend, FIS and the organizing committee made the decision on Thursday afternoon to alter the schedule and have the downhill that is traditionally held on Saturday take place on Friday. The last time there was a Friday downhill in Kitzbuehel was 1995 when two downhill races were held on the Streif. Due to the schedule change, the finish area, which is regularly packed with over 50,000 spectators for a Saturday downhill, hosted a smaller but no less lively crowd of 25,000 on Friday.
With a light snow falling throughout the morning and into the race, the bulletproof ice and bumps the Hahnenkamm is so famous for were made all the more difficult by tough visibility and flat light.
Charging through the tough conditions was Italian speed specialist, Dominik Paris, who masterfully navigated the treacherous bottom section of the course of the Hausberg, traverse, and Zielschuss to take his third Hahnenkamm downhill title in the last six years with a winning time of 1:56.82 seconds. Paris also won the super-G in 2015 for four wins overall at the venue. Second place went to Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, 0.20 seconds back and third went to Austria’s Otmar Striedinger, 0.37 seconds off the pace.
“It’s amazing, I don’t know,” said a gobsmacked Paris in the finish. “I have no words but it’s very emotional and very special to win just one time here but three times? That’s unbelievable. It’s not normal to do three times winning on this hill and it’s just amazing. Beat was skiing so good and I heard his time and I thought that it’s not easy to beat Beat so I am very proud.”
Kitzbuehel hosted Europa Cup downhill races in the days leading up to the World Cup and the upper sections of the course were especially rough this year with bumps and chatter marks throwing countless racers off their lines.
“It’s so difficult,” Paris continued. “Today was pretty difficult and the visibility was really bad. Icy, bumpy, that’s what I like and I tried to push really hard. The Mausefalle was really bumpy but the rest of the course was pretty good skiing, I was on the limit always and the Hausberg through the traverse was really good and I bring some speed to the finish.”
Feuz, who has been the most consistent downhiller of the past two seasons, finished in second place for the third time in his career at Kitzbuehel. Initially leading the race by almost a full second when he first crossed the finish line, many observers thought Feuz’s time would not be touched as the big Swiss is known for always being a threat for the top step of the podium.
“I’m super, super stoked with second place,” Feuz said through a translator. “I was absolutely satisfied with my run and there is nothing bad about finishing second next to Dominik who really knows what it takes to win at the Streif, obviously, with winning for the third time.”
For Striedinger, wearing bib 27 afforded the 27-year-old Austrian a bit of an advantage as he used a momentary break in the clouds to threaten the lead and ultimately slide into third place for his second World Cup podium finish and first since 2013.
“Today, for sure, a dream came true,” he said. “Passing the finish line and watching the monitor and there was the three and I thought, ‘Are you serious?’ I could not believe it. My run was good but I had one or two mistakes so I really didn’t expect to be that high. The last years we could not really believe the man who gives us the weather forecast but I was in the start and there was sun and it was definitely better than Beat and Paris. I was definitely lucky on the sun side and I’m happy with my run.”
Canadian Benjamin Thomsen was the top North American finisher in sixth place. Thomsen’s last World Cup podium came in 2012 when he finished second in the downhill in Sochi, Russia.
“My best ever result before this was a 12th place here and for sure I’m striving for that podium and it’s close,” Thomsen explained. “I think it’s going to come soon but today just wasn’t my day. I knew there was going to be lots of guys showing up on race day and they did. I’m happy for those guys and I’m happy with where my skiing is at. Next time.”
The American Downhillers were led by Bryce Bennett in 14th place. After a tough time in both of the training runs, Bennett was able to get his act together on race day and pull off a top-15 finish in a tight race. Bennett finished less than a half-second behind fifth place.
“I was pretty nervous and I think I had to make some major adjustments from the training runs and I was able to do that fairly well,” he said. “I had a plan and I committed to that plan, which I’m happy about. I think this week was super good for me to learn. It was a huge learning experience and I thing the past years I’ve just been managing making it down this track and I feel like now I’m in a position to actually, like, make turns down it. It was quite an emotional roller coaster of being very scared and having fun but I think I was able to do what I wanted to do and I’m happy about that. I crossed the finish line today and was like, ‘That’s doable’ and I think it’s totally possible to be one of the competitive guys here. I’m looking forward to the future.”
Following Bennett in 19th place was Travis Ganong. Wiley Maple finished in 38th after being flagged during his race run due to the racer before him crashing and Jared Goldberg finished 43rd. Thomas Biesemeyer did not finish.
There were several notable absences on Friday as American Steven Nyman, Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud, and Switzerland’s Carlo Janka all sat out the downhill due to injury. Also notable, Austria’s Max Franz pulled out of the course early in his run after suffering a broken heel on the rough ice. Sweden’s Alexander Koell also crashed approaching the finish and was helicoptered off course.
The men now race slalom in Kitzbuehel on Saturday, January 26.
- Dominik Paris (ITA)- Nordica/Nordica/Marker
- Beat Feuz (SUI)- Head/Head/Head
- Otmar Striedinger (AUT)- Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
- Christof Innerhofer (ITA)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Daniel Danklmaier (AUT)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Benjamin Thomsen (CAN)- Head/Head/Head
- Josef Ferstl (GER)- Head/Head/Head
- Hannes Heichelt (AUT)- Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
- Matthias Mayer (AUT)- Head/Head/Head
- Matteo Marsaglia (ITA)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
For complete FIS results, please click here.