Beat Feuz wins Kitzbühel in last downhill before Olympics

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KITZBÜHEL, Austria — Beat Feuz is again the man to beat heading to the Olympic downhill race at the Beijing Winter Games.

Feuz’s Swiss teammate Marco Odermatt also showed again Sunday he has the talent and form to be Alpine skiing’s big new star in China.

Feuz was 0.21 seconds ahead of Odermatt in a clear 1-2 finish for Switzerland’s stars on the storied Streif downhill course in the last World Cup speed race before the Olympics.

Daniel Hemetsberger of Austria was third, trailing 0.90 behind Feuz. Matthias Mayer, the 2014 Olympic downhill gold medalist, was fourth.

Feuz, the four-time defending World Cup downhill champion, got his first win of the season at the eighth attempt, though it was also his fifth podium finish.

The 2018 Olympic bronze medalist’s next scheduled race is the first Alpine skiing event at the Winter Games — the men’s downhill on Sunday, Feb. 6.

“Winning is a boost for the Olympic Games but I think I got a boost last week with a gift of a second daughter,” said Feuz, who on Monday had announced the arrival of a second child with his partner.

As a three-time career winner on the daunting Streif slope, Feuz should be a strong contender on a downhill course at Xiaohaituo that is reputedly steep though none of the World Cup racers have ever seen it.

The Olympic downhill course was created just months before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has consistently prevented travel to China to see it. Men’s World Cup downhill and super-G races scheduled there in February 2020 were among the first international sports events canceled as the coronavirus outbreak spread.

The leveling effect of no racers having experience of the Olympic course seems likely to benefit the precociously talented Odermatt, who extended his lead Sunday in the overall World Cup standings.

The 24-year-old is a relative newcomer to downhill, with only 22 World Cup starts, yet now has runner-up finishes in the past month at three of the most demanding courses — Bormio, Italy; Wengen, Switzerland; and now Kitzbühel.

“The big goal is to win a medal,” Odermatt said of his Olympic prospects in downhill, super-G and giant slalom. “We don’t know anything about China yet so we will see.”

Odermatt lost his chance of victory Sunday when going fast and wide into the soft snow before barely squeezing inside the left-turn gate entering the Hausberg passage near the finish. Three of the top-20 ranked starters failed to make the same turn and were disqualified.

Odermatt will go to the Olympics with a big 375-point lead in the overall standings from Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, the 2020 champion who placed sixth Sunday after winning Friday’s downhill.

Kilde, who has three downhill wins this season, leads the discipline standings by just eight points from Feuz with two races left in March.

After strong winds Friday ruled out using the regular downhill start, racers came down the full 2-mile course that launched them within seconds into a jump of up to 45 meters through the air into the Mausefalle section.

Two Americans clocked the fastest speed approaching the jump into the finish line. Travis Ganong hit 88 mph, just faster than Bryce Bennett as they finished 11th and 12th, respectively.

Wins at Kitzbühel are the most valuable on the men’s circuit and Feuz earned a check for 110,000 Swiss francs ($120,000).

The men’s World Cup stays in Austria for a slalom on Tuesday at Schaldming that is the last race before the Feb. 4-20 Olympics.

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Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen
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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

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