That was worth the wait. After days of delays and uncertainty of what exactly race day would look like for the 2018 Olympic men’s downhill, the Jeongseon Alpine Center delivered a near-perfect day of racing on Thursday. With little wind and bluebird skies, the fastest men on two skis battled it out for Olympic gold.
Going into Thursday’s race, there was a lot riding on Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal’s shoulders. Not only was Olympic downhill gold one of the very few missing pieces to his otherwise stellar career, but Norway had yet to win an Olympic downhill gold medal, ever. The Attacking Vikings had finished second four times since the 1994 Games in Lillehammer. Needless to say, the Norwegian faithful were eager for a win — and Svindal delivered.
After a slower than expected top portion, Svindal dissected the notoriously tricky bottom section of the Jeongseon course with surgical precision, clawing back time at each interval and crossing the line with a slim 0.18 second advantage over eventual bronze-medalist Beat Feuz of Switzerland. Fellow Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud looked to be on gold-medal pace until he was not able to match Svindal’s speed in the final turns and slid into second, 0.12 seconds shy of the win.
“As Kjetil went down and I saw how fast he was, I was definitely preparing for a silver,” Svindal said. “I thought there’s no way I can make up that time on the bottom. And that feeling was also a good feeling so if I would’ve won silver I’d also be very happy still, so this gold is… this is a special day for sure.”
“When you cross the finish line and you see that you’ve had a good race and you’re in the medals or even for the gold, you don’t think too much about the history books,” Svindal added about his historic win. “It’s emotional, and being in the Olympics and competing for gold and being able to get it, for me at least, those feelings are much stronger than any history ever written.”
Svindal, now 35, has likely skied his last Olympic downhill and can now finish the rest of his career knowing that, without a doubt, he is one of the greatest skiers in history.
“I guess this is the beginning of the end somehow, definitely my last Olympics,” he said. “Nothing is 100% sure but that’s very, very close to being 100% sure.”
If there was a clear-cut favorite going into the downhill, it was Jansrud. The Norwegian finished second in all three training runs and won the test event two years prior. Although he was not able to come away with a downhill gold of his own, the Attacking Viking was nonetheless satisfied given his relaitve inconsistent season on the World Cup this year.
“I feel good, definitely,” Jansrud said. “Perfect Norwegian day. I wish of course we had our teammate Aleksander (Aamodt Kilde) up with us, he skied good at the top section but made a few mistakes, but all in all, amazing day. I’m happy with my race. If you look at the previous races in the World Cup, Beat and Aksel have been fighting it out and had a lot of wins and podiums and I’ve been more unstable. I knew I had to do something special today to catch it up and it almost worked out according to plan.”
Feuz, who is the reigning World Champion in downhill and the current leader in the World Cup downhill standings, was many experts’ top pick for gold. Althoug, when Feuz was asked, the Swiss explained that any of the top downhillers had just as good of a chance at gold as he did
“In the Olympic Games there are sometimes some surprises,” Feuz said. “But between the first five runners today I would say there were no surprises. We can definitely say that was a run worthy of the Olympic Games. Anyone of the first five could have been the first.”
For the young American team, it was a day of encouraging skiing. With medal contenders Steven Nyman and Travis Ganong out with injury, the team was dealt yet another blow with Thomas Biesemeyer rupturing his achilles tendon less than 24-hours before the race. Ryan Cochran-Siegle was given the final start spot. Although the American Downhillers did not walk away with a medal, head coach Johno McBride was proud of his team, given the circumstances.
“I’m really proud of the way everybody skied,” explained McBride. “Most important to me is the way guys execute based on the plan they put forth. The performance was not necessarily in line with where the result was. I think there’s a great energy in this group. Obviously, it sucks to have three people get hurt but I think there’s a lot of momentum moving forward, in my mind.”
Bryce Bennett led the team with a 16th-place finish in his Olympic debut. The tall Californian admitted to catching some Olympic Fever after a series of top-1o training results, but chalked the performance up as a positive learning experience and vowed to be better at Beijing 2022.
“I did what I wanted to to,” he said. “I kept the external factors of thinking about getting a gold medal and crazy thoughts of interviews on the Today show and Stephen Colbert aside and was able to focus on what I wanted to and what’s important to me, and that was all the people that have supported me throughout my career. It just wasn’t the day, unfortunately. I just need to go back and figure out what to do so in the next four years that won’t ever happen to me again.”
Following Bennett, Jared Goldberg finished in 20th place, Cochran-Siegle landed in 23rd, and Wiley Maple finished in 30th.
The men now race super-G on Friday, Feb. 16.
- Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR) – Head/Head/Head
- Kjetil Jansrud (NOR) – Head/Head/Head
- Bead Feuz (SUI) – Head/Head/Head
- Dominik Paris (ITA) – Nordica/Nordica/Marker
- Thomas Dressen (GER) – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Peter Fill (ITA) – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Vincent Kriechmayr (AUT) – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Brice Roger (FRA) – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Matthias Mayer (AUT) – Head/Head/Head
- Andreas Sander (GER) – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Total Time||Diff.||FIS Points|
|1||7||421328||SVINDAL Aksel Lund||1982||NOR||1:40.25||0.00|
|15||12||422139||KILDE Aleksander Aamodt||1992||NOR||1:42.18||+1.93||24.06|
|34||40||110324||VON APPEN Henrik||1994||CHI||1:44.02||+3.77||47.01|
|47||57||54106||BREITFUSS KAMMERLANDER Simon||1992||BOL||1:47.87||+7.62||95.01|
|48||53||320391||KIM Dong Woo||1995||KOR||1:47.99||+7.74||96.51|
|52||52||270047||MC MILLAN Patrick||1991||IRL||1:49.98||+9.73||121.32|
|Did not finish|
|Did not start|
|33||380292||ZRNCIC DIM Natko||1986||CRO|