France’s Deneriaz takes gold in downhill
SESTRIERE BORGATA, Italy ” Antoine Deneriaz wasn’t joking on Saturday when he said he had a good chance to win a medal in Sunday’s Olympic downhill race.
The Frenchman was the 30th racer to start Sunday, when many watching the race already thought that Austria’s Michael Walchhofer had won. Then Deneriaz, who was out with torn knee ligaments for most of last season, leapt onto the course.
The clock showed him ahead at the first interval. Then at the second. Then third. The half-listening audience now had its full attention on the race course as Deneriaz shot over the final jump and across the finish line, beating the entire field that proceeded him and winning by almost a second.
“My race was incredible,” Deneriaz said. “When I was at the start I said to myself, ‘Do it. Do it. I have to attack.’ When I arrived at the finish line and saw the time, I thought it was incredible.”
Deneriaz, who was also the fastest in the final training run Saturday, took gold with a time of 1 minute, 48.80 seconds. Michael Walchhofer, the World Cup downhill leader from Austria, took silver in 1:49.52 while Switzerland’s Bruno Kernen landed bronze with a time of 1:49.82.
Kernen, who will retire after this season, won on the same hill during world championships back in 1997, but said he wasn’t dwelling much on that glory in the start gate Sunday.
“Thinking back too much wouldn’t help,” Kernen said. “My clock started today at zero.”
Coincidentally, Kernen was wearing bib No. 14 for both medal-winning runs.
“I’m not superstitious,” he said. “It’s a coincidence, but maybe it brings me luck.”
Walchhofer had a wild run, landing on one ski after the first jump and bobbling precariously around a couple of gates.
“It was one of my toughest races ever,” Walchhofer said. “There was a lot of pressure on me and after all, I was the fastest of the favorites.”
While veteran Norwegian racer Andre Kjetil Aamodt missed the podium by .06 seconds (1:49.88), Bode Miller was the fastest American, taking fifth with a time of 1:49.93. Daron Rahlves was 10th (1:50.33), Scott Macartney 15th (1:50.68) and Steve Nyman finished 19th (1:50.88).
“I attacked the top at full gas,” said Miller, who was fastest throughout the first half of the course. “I think I skied well absolutely. I was balanced and made the right moves. In a couple of spots, I got bumped a little off-balance in the air.”
Miller also said he wasn’t at all surprised by the victory from Deneriaz.
“He’s a fantastic skier,” Miller said. “He crushed us all in Val Gardena (Italy, where Deneriaz won a World Cup in 2004), which is a similar course to this one.”
Deneriaz said that the course agreed with him from the beginning.
“This is the kind of course I like the most because I can go fast,” he said. “From the first training day, I had a good feeling about this course. I felt like I was at the top of my form.”
Nyman, who received a ‘Happy Birthday’ on the big screen upon finishing his run, felt he skied well, and felt undoubtedly that Deneriaz deserved his win.
“Deneriaz put down an amazing, amazing run,” Nyman said. “The guy, from back there (No. 30) .. it’s incredible.”