WENGEN, Switzerland — It is never easy for Switzerland to watch an Austrian downhiller win its signature ski race that is part of the Alpine nation’s culture.
It was even harder to take Saturday as Vincent Kriechmayr won the classic Lauberhorn race that Swiss team officials said this week he should not have been allowed to start.
Kriechmayr’s victory in a sun-splashed World Cup downhill beside the Eiger mountain came despite missing midweek training runs that are typically mandatory in skiing’s marquee event. He had been kept in quarantine in Austria after testing positive for COVID-19.
He had arrived in Wengen late Wednesday, after the two training runs, but was cleared by race officials who insisted Kriechmayr — the reigning world champion in downhill — had not been given special treatment under International Ski Federation (FIS) rules.
“For me, it’s not important what the Swiss team is saying. For me, it’s important what the athletes are saying,” said Kriechmayr, who asked his biggest rivals for approval, including Beat Feuz and Marco Odermatt of Switzerland.
“They think it’s a good decision for the athletes. That’s the only important thing for me,” he told The Associated Press.
In a further twist, Kriechmayr’s winning run denied Swiss favorite Feuz a record fourth win in the storied race that has been a World Cup fixture since the circuit started 55 years ago. The Lauberhorn race was first run in 1930.
The Austrian winner finished 0.34 seconds ahead of runner-up Feuz in the longest race on the World Cup circuit he also won three years ago. The key to victory this time was Kriechmayr’s flawless run through the slower, twisting middle section of the tiring 2 2/3-mile course.
Kriechmayr’s winning time at just over 2 minutes, 26 seconds was 0.44 faster than third-placed Dominik Paris of Italy, who now leads the season-long downhill standings.
The process to qualify Kriechmayr included staging an unusual “training run” on Friday morning, one day after he had competed in a World Cup super-G race on a lower section of the hill. The brief incident saw him push out of the official downhill start then stop within 10 meters.
The symbolic training start enabled Kriechmayr to race in the Friday downhill, where he placed 12th, and again on Saturday though provoked criticism of FIS.
“In these complicated times due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” skiing’s governing body said in a statement, “it is important to find solutions to allow our athletes to compete as long as they can provide the necessary requirements according to the FIS COVID guidelines.”
Though agreeing with the FIS aim to let racers race, Italian veteran Christof Innerhofer told the AP that “it is more easy when you have a big name” like Kriechmayr.
Before the race, display jets from the Swiss air force performed their traditional show of stunts in formation over the course circled by the Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch mountains.
A crowd of almost 19,500 spectators was more than 12,000 fewer than attended two years ago when the race was last staged before the pandemic.
They saw Switzerland’s emerging ski star Odermatt place fourth, trailing by 0.46. Fifth-place Matthias Mayer clocked the fastest speed at almost 150 kph (93 mph) when he was the first starter on snow that got softer on a warm day.
Swiss fans also said farewell to Carlo Janka, the 2010 overall World Cup winner who ended his racing career. Janka did not complete the race that he won in 2010.
Odermatt extended his lead in the overall World Cup standings to a big 390-point margin from Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, who was 0.98 back in seventh. Kilde had won on Friday ahead of Odermatt on a shorter Lauberhorn course.
Paris earned 60 points Saturday to take the lead Kilde had held in the season-long downhill standings. In a tight contest, Odermatt in sixth place is just 40 points back going into two editions next weekend of Austria’s classic downhill, the Hahnenkamm at Kitzbühel.
Ryan Cochran-Siegle finished 15th and became the third U.S. male Alpine skier to clinch an Olympic spot.
Cochran-Siegle, ranked 12th in the world in downhill and 11th in super-G, is one of three American men with top-five finishes on the World Cup this season. The others, fellow speed racers Travis Ganong and Bryce Bennett, previously clinched Olympic spots.
Cochran-Siegle, 29, raced four events in his Olympic debut in 2018 with a best finish of 11th in the giant slalom.
The U.S. currently has six men’s Olympic quota spots, but could get more. If no American finishes in the top 10 in Sunday’s slalom in Wengen, then River Radamus and Luke Winters will be the fourth and fifth U.S. men to clinch Olympic spots.
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