Matthias Mayer

Matthias Mayer ends Kitzbuehel downhill drought for Austria

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KITZBUEHEL, Austria (AP) — For the second time in two days at the 80th Hahnenkamm races, Matthias Mayer spread his arms and bent over backward in celebration.

While his leading time in Friday’s World Cup super-G didn’t hold up, his gutsy run on the Streif course on Saturday earned him the victory in the classic downhill, becoming the first Austrian winner of the event in six years.

In cloudy conditions but on a perfect track, Mayer finished 0.22 ahead of Austrian teammate Vincent Kriechmayr and Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, who tied for second.

“There is nothing better than crossing the finish in front of those thousands of people. It’s really incredible,” said Mayer, who won the super-G here three years ago.

“In Kitzbuehel there is always tension but I was just looking forward to this race, I wanted to enjoy it,” he added.

It was the eighth career World Cup win for the two-time Olympic champion and third of the season, after triumphing in a super-G in Lake Louise, Alberta, in December and an Alpine combined in Wengen, Switzerland, last week.

No Austrian had won the prestigious race, which is usually attended by tens of thousands of spectators, since Hannes Reichelt in 2014.

“It’s very important, simply cool,” Mayer said about winning one of the marquee events of the season.

World Cup downhill champion Feuz was denied victory in the circuit’s most challenging race once again, as he finished runner-up for the fourth time in the last five years.

“Again I was not fast enough,” Feuz said. “But second place on the most difficult course in Kitzbuehel, you have to be satisfied. In Wengen luck has been on my side three times, here in Kitzbuehel it has not been on my side.”

Feuz, however, extended his lead in the discipline standings, having finished in the top three each race this season.

Feuz is currently 96 points clear of Dominik Paris, who won the downhill here last season, while Mayer climbed to third, trailing Feuz by 180 points.

Paris has been ruled out for the remainder of the season after the Italian tore the ACL and fractured the fibula head in his right knee in a crash during super-G practice this week.

“It’s a shame what happened to Dominik. That was a super battle,” Feuz said. “The gap is a bit bigger now. But Mayer has also been top five all the time so I cannot allow myself to make mistakes.”

Feuz led the race until Kriechmayr clocked the same time. It was already the sixth race this season with a tie for a podium place, which also happened in Friday’s super-G.

Kriechmayr crashed in Thursday’s downhill training and placed a disappointing sixth in the super-G the next day.

“It was a good run, I wanted to show that I could do better than yesterday,” he said after the Austrian 1-2 finish. “Our fans have deserved this. We have don’t well in recent years.”

France duo Johan Clarey and Maxence Muzaton placed fourth and fifth, respectively, while Kjetil Jansrud, who won the super-G Friday, finished sixth.

American downhiller Steven Nyman was among the fastest starters and still was ahead of Mayer’s time at the fourth split time but he couldn’t match the Austrian’s pace in the demanding bottom section of the course.

Nyman came 1.05 off the lead in 13th, five places behind the best American finisher, Bryce Bennett.

Peter Fill, who won the race in 2016 for one of his three career victories, failed to finish before announcing his retirement at the end of the season after 17 years on the circuit.

The 37-year-old Italian won the World Cup downhill title in back-to-back seasons in 2016 and 2017, and the Alpine combined rankings the following year. Fill also won super-G silver at the 2009 world championships.

The Hahnenkamm races traditionally end with a slalom on Sunday.

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Olympic downhill champion wants Formula One-like qualifying in ski racing

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VIENNA (AP) — World Cup skiing needs a qualification system like Formula One, with qualifying runs determining the starting order for the race, Olympic downhill champion Matthias Mayer said Friday.

“You could compete in training for who is the first to pick a start number,” the Austrian skier said.

Mayer’s proposal goes a step further than rules for downhill and super-G implemented this season. In the new system, the top 10 skiers can choose an odd start number between 1 and 19, and the skiers ranked between 11th and 20th pick an even number between 2 and 20.

The International Ski Federation has changed the old format, where the top seven were randomly given a number between 16 and 22, because it hopes TV viewers will watch longer when the best skiers are more spread out.

“It will change something, definitely,” said Mayer, who was speaking at a sponsor event. “The best racer can pick the start number he wants. I think it’s a positive development. But we should discuss a qualifying format in training.”

FIS men’s race director Markus Waldner said skiing’s governing body considered several options before deciding on the new regulation.

“The idea is to spread out the top 10 from the start list,” Waldner said. “Most of our TV viewers were starting to watch a race after the TV break, after the first 15 starters, because the top seven racers all started between 16 and 22. We would like to motivate our TV viewers to watch from the very beginning of a race.”

A winner of three World Cup races, Mayer missed most of last season after breaking two vertebrae in a downhill crash in Val Gardena, Italy. He returned to training on snow in July, and is planning a comeback at the speed races in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Nov. 26-27.

The Austrian skipped the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden last Sunday, though he skied on the course as a forerunner, a skier doing a test run just before the race starts.

MORE: Men’s Alpine skiing season preview

Matthias Mayer, Olympic downhill champ, out for season after crash

Matthias Mayer
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Austrian Olympic downhill champion Matthias Mayer underwent season-ending surgery on two broken vertebrae after his Saturday crash in a World Cup downhill in Val Gardena, Italy.

Mayer, 25, may have been spared further injury by a new airbag system that inflated inside his race suit to soften the crash landing on his backside.

It marked the first time an airbag inflated during a World Cup race, according to The Associated Press.

“It could have been much worse,” Mayer said in a press release.

Mayer had one podium finish in six World Cup speed races this season. Last season, he placed third in the World Cup super-G standings and fourth in the downhill.

Mayer’s absence means one fewer rival to Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal in the World Cup speed events.

Svindal, back from rupturing an Achilles in October 2014, has won five of the six World Cup downhills and super-Gs this season. He leads four-time reigning World Cup overall champion Marcel Hirscher, a slalom and giant slalom ace, in the early World Cup overall standings.

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