By Nick Mulvenney
PYEONGCHANG (Reuters) – Austria dominated the Alpine skiing in the Sochi Winter Olympics four years ago and Matthias Mayer is hoping to trigger a similar medal avalanche when he defends his men’s downhill title at the Pyeongchang Games on Sunday.
Mayer’s success in the blue riband event was one of nine Alpine skiing medals won by Austria in Russia and the 27-year-old was all smiles on his return to the Olympic arena at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre on Wednesday.
“I feel very excited to come back, it’s always something special,” he told reporters after his second training run.
“I’m feeling good… we have good conditions and everything looks good for this week.”
Unlike in 2014 when he arrived at the Olympics with a World Cup downhill win in Lenzerheide to his name, Mayer has yet to top the podium this season.
He has, however, had one second and three third places and most importantly got through the season without a serious injury.
“I was healthy, the last few years I’ve always had to fight with some injuries but I feel good now,” he added.
“I had a really good start in the World Cup season, had some good results. I am very comfortable.”
Mayer’s 37-year-old team mate, former Super G world champion Hannes Reichelt, also believes he might be in the medals after three World Cup podiums and a few near misses this season.
“I am in good shape, maybe I have to ski a little bit faster,” Reichelt said.
“I think all of the guys are going all in for these races, you have to reach the limits for a very fast run. That’s what makes it so special. You also need a bit of luck on your side…”
Even though success and failure in the speed races comes down to tiny margins, Reichelt said he thought the Austrian team was at least starting from a decent base.
“I think we are in good shape, that’s important,” he said.
“Olympic Games always have special rules but I think it’s important all of our guys are healthy and we are healthy.”
Another downhill medal contender is Max Franz, who identified Norwegians Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud and Swiss Beat Feuz as the main threats to Austrian success in the downhill and Super G.
“It will be really difficult,” he told Reuters. “(But) the whole World Cup team is in good shape.”
Team spearhead Marcel Hirscher thought it unlikely the Austrians would be able to match their Sochi success, although they might spring a few shocks.
“We have a younger team… and four years ago we had more individual top favorites in our team,” he said.
“Now we have more surprises in our team and this can be at the end of this Olympic Games, a big ‘wow’ effect.”
(Editing by Christian Radnedge)