Youth is served in Saturday’s downhill | VailDaily.com

Youth is served in Saturday’s downhill

Patrick Kueng, of Switzerland, catches big air off of the Redtail Jump during the men's downhill of the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships on Saturday in Beaver Creek. Kueng finished in first with a time of 1 minute, 43.18 seconds.
Justin Q. McCarty | Special to the Daily |

BEAVER CREEK — Experience at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships men’s downhill at Beaver Creek was apparently an overrated commodity.

Switzerland’s Patrick Kueng snagged gold, followed by American Travis Ganong in second and Swiss skier Beat Feuz with the bronze.

All are first-time medalists at the Championships.

Kueng finished in 1 minute, 43.18 seconds with Ganong 24-hundredths of a second in tow. Feuz was just 31-hundredths behind his teammate.

For the Swiss, Saturday’s medals were sweet vindication for Austria’s early domination of the Championships in their perpetual struggle with their arch alpine rivals. Austria did not have a racer in the top 10 with Matthias Mayer in 12th being their highest finisher. For the Americans, who had three in the top 10 with Steven Nyman fourth and Andrew Weibrecht tied for ninth, Saturday was a huge bounce back from Friday’s disappointment of being blanked from the podium in women’s downhill.

Almost a no-show

Kueng almost didn’t compete on Saturday.

Nations only get four racers for each event at Worlds, and Kueng had to win an intrasquad race during the men’s downhill training sessions earlier this week to earn his spot. Kueng, however, has a connection with the Birds of Prey racecourse.

His first World Cup victory — one of only two — came here in super-G on Dec. 7, 2013. While he validated that win with a triumph in the Wengen downhill — it’s no small feat for a Swiss skier to win that iconic race on home snow, a lack of results recently left him scrambling for a berth.

Kueng had an abysmal return to Beaver Creek during the tour’s regular stop here in December, but he had a feeling about Saturday’s race.

“Actually, I have a good feeling in December,” Kueng said. “ … I have a good relationship with the Birds of Prey. I was so fast in training in December. I crashed in downhill and super-G was also bad. Now, I come back and I’m world champion. It’s a really tough downhill. I love this mountain. I’m lucky to sit here.”

Perhaps the most intriguing part of his run was that Kueng appeared to be in big trouble on the course’s Talon Turn with the telltale sign of snow spraying from his skis. But he apparently had the right line. By Pumphouse, the second interval, Kueng was 0.37 seconds up and won by 0.24, a convincing margin.

Sleep better, Travis

The Americans were a bit under the gun when it came to the expectation game as hosts, and Ganong was feeling the heat.

“There is so much pressure here in front of the hometown crowd with all my friends and family,” Ganong said. “This is the biggest venue in ski racing. I woke up this morning and I had so much pressure. I couldn’t really sleep much last night. But I woke up and said, ‘OK, I’ve skied my whole life, I’ve trained so hard the last couple of years, I love to ski, let’s just go out and have some fun.’”

He did have some fun, and earned a good night’s rest.

Ironically, Ganong nailed the Talon Turn and was 13-hundredths ahead of Kueng at Pumphouse. With the crowd roaring with hope, Ganong kept flying, but he did lose some time on the lower half of the course. When he crossed the finish line and saw the No. 2 by his name on the board, he fell down and clapped with his ski poles.

“All day long I was super relaxed and just having a good time,” Ganong said. “It was unbelievable. Skiing is the most fun thing you can do. When it works out well at a venue, on a stage like this, it’s just so special.”

Comeback complete

Feuz is only 27, but he seems to have had a lifetime of World Cup experience both good and bad. The good came when he seemed on the verge of becoming a breakout star finishing second in the World Cup overall race in 2011-12. Having already missed two seasons to injury earlier in his career, a left-knee injury sidelined him in 2013-14, and he still didn’t look right last season.

At the Birds of Prey’s downhill earlier this year, Feuz busted out with a second-place finish. Running with bib No. 15, Feuz knocked Nyman off the hot seat.

“Sometimes, I have not so good a feeling,” Feuz said. “When you go on this hill, you have to go fast with a lot of aggressiveness. But today, for me, it was easy. I have no mistakes and the ski goes really fast, and I have to know to push to the limit. That was the key — to go fast to the limit.”

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, cfreud@vaildaily.com and @cfreud.