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Home away from home: Kilde wins Birds of Prey downhill by narrow margin over Odermatt

BEAVER CREEK — Friday’s snowstorm was just what the doctor ordered for Aleksander Aamodt Kilde.

The Norwegian, who said he got sick following last weekend’s Lake Louise World Cup — where he was second in the Nov. 26 super-G and first in the following day’s downhill — had the fastest time at Saturday’s World Cup downhill on the Birds of Prey course.

It was the event’s first day of competition after Friday’s downhill was canceled on account of the weather. Kilde finished 0.06 seconds in front of reigning overall World Cup champion Marco Odermatt while Canada’s James Crawford rounded out the podium.

“Yeah you know, it’s been a tough week,” Kilde said of his recent bout with the flu. “(I had to) take down everything a notch. I felt way better even yesterday. That got canceled, got another day of rest, and then today, you know, I felt OK. Still feeling it a little bit in my system, but I got the possibility to just be ready for the two minutes that I needed to be ready.”

Working from bib No. 6, Kilde posted the fastest split on the top of the course. As the wind picked up for the late starters, his work there may have been more decisive than his gaudy second segment, where he posted the fastest speed recorded — 75.4 miles per hour — on the entire course.

“Well I had the same situation last year where I was really fast on the top,” Kilde said of 2021, where he won a super-G and a downhill. “Today, there’s more weather, it’s windy; it’s hard for me to say, but, maybe I was a little bit lucky but I also had a good feeling there.” 

Odermatt challenged Kilde, winning back the lead in the second segment, only to trail by 0.02 seconds in the third. He lost another seven-hundredths in the third, but gained back three of those with his direct line off of the Harrier Jump, forcing fans to hold their breaths in Red Tail Stadium as Kilde — who told EuroSport afterward that he calls this “his second home” — waited in the leader’s chair to see if his lead would hold.

“Well, I think six-hundredths — you find that everywhere,” said Odermatt, who leads Kilde by 60 points in the current overall standings.

Marco Odermatt competes in the Xfinity Birds of Prey downhill Saturday in Beaver Creek.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

“Of course, it’s a sport with small margins,” Kilde added.

The defending downhill World Cup champion, Kilde has won the first two downhills of the season and has won the last two at Beaver Creek, going back to last year.

“I found a really good setup with my equipment and also with my skiing,” he said. “I believe in myself, I trust in myself and I have a good gameplan. When I stand on the start, I don’t dwell on anything. I know this plan is what I do and when I do that, it’s going to be fast.”

For Crawford, it was just his second World Cup podium in 66 starts. The 25-year-old was 82nd in the overall standings in 2021 and 14th last year. Currently, he’s seventh.

“It wasn’t until last year that I started breaking through. When you get a little bit of exposure on the tracks and confidence, it’s really easy to go out and do what you know,” he said.

James Crawford of Canada flies down the downhill course during the Xfinity Birds of Prey Saturday in Beaver Creek.
Ben Roof/Courtesy photo

“Today I definitely thought the skiing was good enough, the skiing was there. There’s still a little bit of a gap to close to Odermatt and Kilde.”

The Canadian said, given the deteriorating visibility and mounting winds, his early start may have been especially serendipitous.

“They were definitely hard,” he said of the conditions. “I think the early bib was definitely a bit of an advantage, but at the same time you have to use the advantage; you have to ski well to get on the podium.”

Crawford, who is currently ranked 10th in the downhill cup standings, finished one-hundredth of a second in front of three-time Olympic gold medalist Matthias Mayer.

“When you have so many guys on the World Cup who are able to win, at the end of the day it is mental,” he said of the close margins in ski racing. “It’s the approach you bring, it’s how you control nerves and when you’re able to actually produce on race day.”

“It was a close one, but it’s good,” Mayer said.

Sunday’s super-G begins at 10 a.m. In last year’s super-G, Kilde narrowly beat Odermatt, winning the event by 0.03 as American Travis Ganong snuck on the podium in third.