On Saturday, the Lauberhorn celebrated its 90th anniversary, made extra special when Switzerland’s Beat Feuz successfully pulled ahead of Italy’s Dominik Paris to win the downhill by 0.29 seconds. Feuz handled all of the difficulty of the Lauberhorn with what looked like ease, winning the event for the third time in his career.
“He’s a really nice guy and I’m really happy for him that it’s going so well for him, but it’s tough for us other athletes because he just has such an extreme feeling for letting the skis run and keeping ground speeds high,” said third-place finisher, Germany’s Thomas Dressen. “That’s something you can’t learn, whether you have it or not. I’m trying to learn from him every day when I watch him in training. I think I made some good steps but he’s still a lot ahead.”
Wengen may be a special track for Feuz, and he isn’t the only athlete on the men’s circuit that finds the Lauberhorn to be one of the grandest venues on the World Cup tour. Wengen is the definition of Swiss ski racing at it’s finest.
In the morning before inspection, the men pile into the train in Wengen village to make their way up to the start of the Lauberhorn. Packed into multiple cars full of gear, skis, and athletes, the ascent is unique in that teams have to intermix on their way to start of the course. The Americans, Austrians, Italians, Germans, and French can all be found riding in the same car. And each individual competitor soaks up the experience differently. Some dive into a tunnel of focus, quietly staring out the window at the vast landscape of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Others chat with their teammates and competition. Some read the newspaper or a book.
As inspection gets underway, the crowds roll in via train, sled, and skins, to find their optimal viewing point of the course. Once the masses start to get settled in, the flight show begins. Swiss fighter jets sail over the crowds, coming so close at such high speeds that thrilled scream of joy can be heard from every corner of the venue. Add in men flying down a mountain at speeds that reach over 100 kilometers per hour, through tight corridors and under low hanging bridges, and the excitement in the air is palpable. The entire event is a production, and fans can’t get enough.
For many athletes, particularly the Americans, the atmosphere is unlike any other. For its 90th anniversary, all past winners in Wengen, as well as any Swiss man who has podiumed at the venue, were invited to return to celebrate the long history of this unique course. A swarm of American downhillers made the trip to Switzerland to celebrate in Wengen for another year.
“[Kyle] Rasmussen is here, he’s the first guy I ever really watched,” American veteran Steven Nyman reminisced int the finish. “Then my first year on the World Cup, Bode [Miller] won here, and then Daron [Rahlves] won here while I was on the team. And Marco [Sullivan’s] success here… it’s just such a meaningful track. Aesthetically it’s something you’re attracted to, in your youth watching this. And then to be able to race it is such a pleasure.”
What makes the track a classic to guys like Nyman is the amount of conviction and confidence it takes to be fast on those more intimidating sections, and then ride that speed through sections were simple gliding is the key. The course is traditionally the longest downhill on the men’s tour. On Saturday, the race started at the alpine combined start due to overnight snow. But that didn’t take away from the energy of the crowds or the athletes.
“It’s 90 years here, it’s a cool beautiful thing and the passion of the Swiss fans is something that’s super motivating,” said Nyman. “It’s really cool to hear them cheering for the Swiss guys at the start down here. They just have such good energy. so if you can tap into that and execute you can do amazing things here.”
Bryce Bennett fed into that energy, leading the way for the American men, who had four guys finish in the top 25 athletes, one of their best team results of the season. Bennett finished seventh, 0.87 seconds out from Feuz. Cochran-Siegle finished 14th after saving a big mistake that caught him on his inside ski and sent him through a panel. Steven Nyman finished 21st, followed by Jared Goldberg three-hundredths behind in 22nd.
In the 2018-19 season, Bennett had been on a roll, continuing to best his top finishes venue after venue, finishing often in the top 10. Two fourth-place finishes in Val Gardena and Bormio, followed by fifth in Wengen showed Bennett had what it takes to eventually make it on the podium. But the beginning of the 2019-20 season, the results just weren’t coming in the way he had expected them to. After taking some time to train in reset over the holiday, Bennett returned to the January leg of the tour with a better game plan. In Wengen, the 27-year-old finally put all of the physical and mental components of his training together to finish in the top 10 for the first time this season.
“You know, the season started off really poorly and I had to find some things very quickly and ask some questions of myself,” said Bennett. “It just feels good getting some confidence back in my skiing which I have not had the past couple of months.”
Earlier in the week after training, Bennett reflected on his struggles early on in the season, saying that he felt like he was in no man’s land trying to figure where he was going and why he was still ski racing. For him, it’s about the team. Nyman is in agreement, commenting that if the team can clean some things up, he’s confident that they can be on the podium soon.
“I think our team’s strong, especially with Ryan [Cochran-Seigle] skiing really well right now and I think we work really well together, just trying to put the American downhill team on top,” said Bennett.
Bennett can be one of the guys to help put the American men on top if he can continue to stick to his gameplan. It helps that Wengen suits his style, and on Saturday his performance proved that some much needed time off helped him hone in the details of his skiing that he felt had been missing.
Cochran-Siegle is another American to watch. Earlier in the week, he finished second in the Wengen training and came at race day with a similar intensity, one that pushed him through a panel at the top of the course, causing him to lose time but giving him a fire to continue pushing hard throughout the course and make up for it.
“My overall run I was actually happy with, even with the mistake,” said Cochran-Siegle. “With the shortened downhill I think I actually saved the run a little bit with my skiing. I was trying to ski more aggressively and a bit more direct trying to save time so with that risk comes the ability to make mistakes. Going into a race you always have a game plan for every turn that you’re trying to ski and when you make a mistake it’s key not to overextend yourself, just ski with what you have and just go.”
“I love this downhill because you need all the pieces in your skiing to be competitive here,” added Bennett. “Looking ahead this is really going to help me because the one place you don’t want to go without confidence is Kitzbuehel.”
Next week the men’s speed tour heads to the infamous Hahnenkamm World Cup, to face the Streif (aka the gnarliest downhill course the group will face all season). The downhill will take place on Saturday prior to the slalom.
- 1. Beat Feuz (SUI): 1:42.53
- 2. Dominik Paris (ITA): +0.29
- 3. Thomas Dressen (GER): +0.31
- 4. Matthias Mayer (AUT): +0.38
- 5. Maura Caviezel (SUI): +0.42
- 6. Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (NOR): +0.48
- 7. Bryce Bennett (USA): +0.87
- 8. Niels Hintermann (SUI): +0.93
- 8. Vincent Kriechmayr (AUT): +0.93
- 10. Ralph Weber (SUI): +1.00
For full race results, click here.