BEAVER CREEK - Italian Christof Innerhofer was totally relaxed in the start gate before Friday's Birds of Prey downhill and he knows his lack of nerves contributed to his win.
Innerhofer's clean run at 1 minute 41.69 seconds was enough to keep favorite Aksel Lund Svindal, of Norway, 0.23 seconds behind in second place. Svindal won both the super-G and the downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta, last weekend and he finished first in Thursday's final training run. He said after the race he felt some added pressure because of those wins, and also because he knows he's skiing fast right now.
"Times when you are fast, there are chances to win races. You really want to try to grab those opportunities," Svindal said at the post - race press conference. "I think you also put extra pressure on yourself when you feel like you have that opportunity."
Innerhofer, on the other hand, finished 24th in super-G and 27th in downhill at Lake Louise last weekend. He also has experienced back pain since January and hasn't trained much leading up to this season. He also had a car accident in July that left him with a concussion, setting him back even more.
Innerhofer said he wasn't sure he would make it to Lake Louise because he hadn't trained.
In early training this week, however, Innerhofer got the fire back. He finished third in the first training run on Tuesday and fifth on Wednesday, but 67th Thursday.
After strong training runs, Innerhofer said he knew he could be right up there with the fastest guys.
His best downhill finish in Beaver Creek prior to Friday was in 2009 and 2011, finishing 12th both years.
He said he always seemed to make mistakes on this downhill course and he has often lost too much time on the top section. But not this year.
"Today on the start, I had feel good; I had feel really relaxed," Innerhofer said. "I had no pressure. ... I was 100 percent relaxed. In the start (gate), I had feel like it's training."
Travis Ganong, the best - finishing American Friday with a tie for 16th, said he wasn't surprised by Innerhofer's win at all.
"He's been skiing really fast. He loves these conditions - he loves this steeper, more technical hill," Ganong said. "He's a great skier. I talked to him a bunch before the run and he was pretty loose and relaxed and feeling good about himself."
Innerhofer said he needs skiing in his life in order to be happy - he said skiing is his life. And when he's skiing strong and feeling healthy, that just adds to the enjoyment.
"When you feel it's going better and better, when you want to win you must enjoy, so that is the most important," he said. "I had enjoy (Friday), but take all the risk and (was also) skiing smooth and without thinking too much."
Svindal make mistakes on the course that cost him too much time. He was off his line and knew he'd lose even more time if he tried to ski back to the line he wanted. His problem areas were from the Brink all the way down to Screech Owl.
"I was super tight all the way down the steep, but up at the start I knew Innerhofer had been crazy fast and you know, I had to risk if I wanted to take him down," Svindal said. "I kept it together down the steep, even though it was probably a little too risky, and then got pushed late around Pumphouse and that cost me some time, and then I skied good on the bottom again."
Svindal said he was trimming his line and he knew the line was too tight. He just couldn't correct it, though, because it would have given up a couple of tenths of a second, which he couldn't afford to lose.
"So I figured I just got to get after this even though I am not where I want to be," Svindal said. "All the way down to (Screech Owl) I got away with it, then I skied a couple of turns that weren't very good and (Innerhofer) got ahead."
Svindal's Norwegian teammate Kjetil Jansrud also finished on the podium with a time of 1 minute 42.19. After his run, Jansrud said he was happy with it, but he didn't think it would be enough.
Some changes to his equipment caught him by surprise Friday, he said.
"Not a flawless run, but when you see how the week has been until now, I'm very happy with my run," Jansrud said.
Jansrud said he had no major mistakes, whereas many guys did.
"(It was) solid skiing," Jansrud said. "I think I'm one of the few today who did not make mistakes. ... So good, solid run - so I'm happy with that."
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or email@example.com.