In stark contrast to Friday’s weather-marred super-G race in Kitzbuehel, Austria, it was a pleasant surprise to open the blinds Saturday morning to sunshine and a few spots of low-lying fog. As racers made their way up to inspection on the famous gondola adorned with the names of past winners, the once-sleepy Austrian village prepared for a spectacular day of ski racing.
Downhill day in Kitzbuehel is something special. It’s hard to really describe without experiencing it for yourself. The electricity of the stadium, the roar of the tens of thousands of drunken ski fans, and the nervous excitement of racers and staff alike is unique to anywhere in the ski racing world.
“It’s like going to church for me,” said American Downhiller legend AJ Kitt. “This is the place we measure ourselves against as ski racers.”
This year, the Hahnenkamm didn’t disappoint. High clouds made their way over the race course by the time Austria’s Hannes Reichelt kicked out of the start with bib one, casting the hill in dark, flat light.
Wearing bib 19 and taking full advantage of a momentary burst of sunshine, 24-year-old German Thomas Dressen charged his way to his first World Cup win and Germany’s first Hahnenkamm downhill title since Sepp Ferstl won in 1979. Reichelt would ultimately settle for third and Switzerland’s Beat Feuz claimed a hard-fought second.
It was only Dressen’s second race run down the Hahnemkamm as his only other Kitzbuehel experience came last season. Adding the fact that he didn’t even finish last year’s race made his victory on Saturday all the more impressive on a track where veterans almost always have the upper hand over younger, less experienced racers.
“They always told me you need a lot of experience (at Kitzbuehel), but I just tried to really focus on my skiing,” an ecstatic Dressen said in the finish. “I watched Hannes Reichelt and he’s a real role model to me and I also like his style of skiing so I tried to do the same as he did. During the run, I also recognized that my light was really good, so I just tried to push from the top to the bottom.”
Feuz was holding the lead up until Dressen’s run and was starting to look mighty comfortable in the Audi leader’s chair. Although the Swiss couldn’t repeat his win from last week in Wengen, Feuz was nonetheless content with his performance.
“It was a really hard and tough race,” he said. “I’m happy to cross the finish line still alive and I’m very happy with my second place.”
Reichelt’s third-place finish was the Austrian’s fourth in Kitzbuehel in either the downhill or the super-G to go along with his downhill win from 2014 that was featured in Red Bull’s “Streif” movie about the race weekend.
“The run was pretty good, not perfect, I had some small mistakes, but the visibility was pretty tough with number one,” Reichelt said. “I’m happy with that run and I’m happy to be in the finish area healthy, which is also very important here in Kitzbuehel.”
“Dressen did a pretty good job,” the veteran continued. “Good skiing, a lot of risk, so I’m happy for that young guy that he won the race because he’s a really nice guy. It’s good for our sport that the German guys are in the lead.”
It was a day of many positives for the American Downhillers as Steven Nyman led the team for the first time this year in a season-best 15th. Although he admitted to having plenty of room for improvement as he continues to return from injury, the captain of the American team has his sights set squarely on the Olympics next month.
“Not too satisfied with my performance,” admitted Nyman in the finish. “Really was horrible coming into the carousel, late to the switch and was just sitting back. I skied some sections pretty well and I was a little hesitant in some sections, but it’s coming along and the confidence is coming. I wish I had committed to more, but every day it’s getting better and better with my confidence in my knee.”
Following Nyman in 16th was Thomas Biesemeyer, who battled through bad light and a high start number to earn his impressive finish.
“It feels good,” Biesemeyer shared. “I feel like Kitzbuehel compliments my skiing well, so as a ski racer that’s really motivating and it gives you a lot of confidence. I was really happy to get 16th, I think I may have the ability to be really competitive here in the top 10 for the years to come. I feel like I’ve done well here and it’s something to build off of and I’m proud of my result and proud of my focus. It’s a tough race so I’m psyched.”
Wiley Maple also had an impressive jump from 45th to 22nd and Bryce Bennett finished in 28th for a total of four American top-30 finishers, a season high. Unfortunately, Jared Goldberg was squashed on the famous traverse above the finish and found the nets for a DNF.
Slalom is next on the schedule in Kitzbuehel for Sunday with racing slated to get underway at 10:30am CET.
- Thomas Dressen (GER) – Rossignol/Lange/Look
- Beat Feuz (SUI) – Head/Head/Head
- Hannes Reichelt (AUT) – Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
- Vincent Kriechmayr (AUT) – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Marc Gisin (SUI) – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Andreas Sander (GER) – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Brice Roger (FRA) – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR) – Head/Head/Head
- Peter Fill (ITA) – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Kjetil Jansrud (NOR) – Head/Head/Head
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Total Time||Diff.||FIS Points||WC Points|
|8||5||421328||SVINDAL Aksel Lund||1982||NOR||1:57.27||+1.12||12.05||32|
|18||17||422139||KILDE Aleksander Aamodt||1992||NOR||1:58.30||+2.15||23.14||13|
|40||23||512031||BARANDUN Gian Luca||1994||SUI||1:59.88||+3.73||40.14||0|
|54||59||460071||ACHIRILOAIE Ioan Valeriu||1990||ROU||2:06.88||+10.73||115.48||0|
|Did not finish 1st run|
|Did not start 1st run|