It has been six years since the last downhill race was held in Saalbach, Austria. Back then, Thomas Dressen was not yet racing on the World Cup. In his first World Cup go at the Zwoelferkogel track, Dressen skied into first, seven hundredths ahead of the Swiss force, Beat Feuz. Feuz has podiumed in 18 of the last 21 downhills he has started. Of those starts, he has won six times. The Swiss team, in general, has been strong, flexing their muscles in Saalbach with a team-best for the men packing four guys into the top five, led by Feuz in second.
Dressen, on the other hand, has been battling coming back from injury in the 2019/20 season. A crash in Beaver Creek in 2018 sidelined him for the remainder of last season, but it hasn’t taken long for the 26-year-old German to get back up to speed.
On Thursday, Dressen won his second downhill in a row. Coming off of a high in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (his home town in Germany), Dressen rode a wave of confidence coming into Saalbach. A big mistake at the top of the course convinced Dressen that he had screwed up, that there was no shot of him making the podium. But as World Cup athletes do, he stuck with his line and his program, making some tighter turns in the mid-section hoping to gain some speed.
“When I came through the finish and saw the green light I was really surprised because the World Cup tour is so tight right now,” said Dressen. “Normally it’s not allowed for you as an athlete to make mistakes and still be in front.”
“I went to school just around 30 minutes from here and so I saw some classmates and some coaches from the past, so it’s felt like coming home again,” added Dressen. “For me, it was like having a second home race after Garmisch.”
Originally, the men were scheduled to travel to China to compete for the weekend – a race meant to test the Yanqing venue prior to the Beijing Olympics in 2022. Then, an outbreak of the coronavirus spread rapidly, causing the FIS and local organizing committee to cancel the race to protect the health of the athletes and their staff. Saalbach stepped up to fill in the gap. Given its proximity to Garmisch, this left an ample amount of time for the athletes to relax and regroup after taking on the notoriously dark and bumpy Kahandar track. In comparison, Saalbach was a breeze, despite variable snow conditions and snow accumulation from earlier in the week.
“They busted some serious butt last night to make this happen which was pretty cool, but that generally happens in Austria,” commented Bryce Bennett.
Bennett had his third-best result this season in Saalbach, finishing 12th overall, 0.97 seconds back from Dressen’s winning time. Bennett’s finishes have fluctuated over the course of the year, causing some frustration for the 27-year-old. Significant hype was built from American fans and media around his success in 2018/19, and prior to Christmas, Bennett was struggling to figure out exactly why he was doing what he was doing. A much-needed break turned the tables, and the results started to come again in January, but the long-term goal remains the same – find the podium for the first time.
“After Garmisch, I was a little bit disappointed because that was some bad skiing,” said Bennett. “It’s not exactly where I wanna be but we’re making a little bit of progress. I’m just trying to hopefully get on the podium here, that’s the goal for the rest of the season. Just gotta keep pushing.”
The second-best finish for the American downhillers came from Travis Ganong in 15th, followed by Steven Nyman in 21st, and Jared Goldberg 30th. The team collectively is looking ahead to Friday’s super-G, as they continue on their mission to join the ranks of the Swiss and the Austrians as being one of the best speed teams in the world.
“I haven’t raced a super G in awhile and I think my super G is headed in the right direction so I’m excited to give it a crack tomorrow,” said Bennett. “I’m starting very far back and hopefully, I can punch one into the top 30 which would be nice, not only for myself but for the team.”
On Friday the men will race the super G beginning at 11:00 am Central European Time.
- 1. Thomas Dressen (GER): 1:32.96
- 2. Beat Feuz (SUI): +0.07
- 3. Mauro Caviezel (SUI): +0.09
- 4. Carlo Janka (SUI): +0.26
- 5. Niels Hintermann (SUI): +0.49
- 6. Kjetil Jansrud (NOR): +0.54
- 6. Vincent Kriechmayr (AUT): +0.54
- 8. Maxence Muzaton (FRA): +0.60
- 9. Johan Clarey (FRA): +0.64
- 10. Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (NOR): +0.74
For full race results, click here.